Monkey, the cat, passed away two nights ago in his sleep. He was an old and ornery thing, but i loved him nonetheless. He was just two weeks away from being taken to Arizona to live on a farm with a wonderful healer woman and a few grumpy men with comfy laps to snuggle up in. He was a great teacher, and some of his greatest lessons have been in the two months since we left Seattle, and left him with a foster home.
It turned out the foster person didn’t actually want him – had agreed out of kindness, but changed his mind just a few weeks before we left (and while i was out of town on research). Finding Monkey a new home was a nightmare. But the bigger nightmare was the steady stream of advice and judgment that came through my various email boxes. Some was from friends, some from acquaintances, a few from random strangers – and all of it, i’m sure, was well-meaning. But i reached a point where i just didn’t want to check my email any more for the barrage of suggestions, tips, questions, and lectures that i received.
What i learned from it all is the weight of judging and being judged. As academics, we are taught to critique and to be critical. Our lives are wrapped up in uncovering the paradoxes and contradictions of being-ness. We sift through, creating genealogies, histories, narratives – we theorize, suggest, and sometimes even try to create. We get angry, we are sorrowful, we feel, we turn stony cold – but mostly, we judge – sometimes as observation (discernment), sometimes as judge, jury, and executioner.
I find myself continuously questioning the worth of that judgement without compassion. We speak (write, blog, tweet, debate) to change minds, to change the way that the world operates (at least we hope we do – there are those, i suppose, who think it is enough to simply narrate, relate, and chronicle), but what good are we to anyone if we only add to the negativity? What good are we if we are only alienating those that we hope would hear us? And really, in the end, what good is it to judge?
I realized, over the two months of fighting to save Monkey’s life (more than half of the suggestions were to put him to sleep), that we cannot change the world by continuing to be judgmental in it. It is precisely judgment that has gotten us to where we are – in this state of what everyone calls “crisis” – the economic crisis, the environmental crisis, the humanitarian crisis – and what i call the crisis of consciousness.
Fighting over our positions, about how the world should be run, how beings ought to treat each other, what issues are more important is not moving us forward, but sticking us in a constantly re-constructed جهنم / Τάρταρος / Xibalba / नरक. So how do we academics continue to do what we do without catching ourselves in the trap? How do we find our place at the table of change? The Dalai Lama once said, “Compassion is the radicalism of our time.”
In the end, for all the well-meaningness of all of the emails, it is impossible for anyone to judge me more than i judged myself – for not giving Monkey up sooner in his life to live on a farm, for not finding Monkey a home before i left for England, for not trying harder to take him to England with us (though the vet wasn’t sure he’d make the flight), for not, for not, for not… Each decision that has been made with regard to his tiny precious life led to the moment of his death. In the end, i have to live with this story – our story, Monkey’s and mine.
What i learned through the past two months is that compassion has to start with ourselves, and then, to those we know. It can be much easier to find compassion for those at a distance – for the suffering and poor, for the subaltern, for those who are perceived to have no voice, or whose voices are hard-to-hear. The real work starts in the ones that are closest to us. We are useless to the world if we are mired in our own pain. “Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine.”