Musings on Bicycling and Buddhism

Friday, December 2, 2011

Character Flaws

Charlie doesn't talk much, except when his brakes squeal once and awhile. He's got a few character flaws, if you will - most of those are parts that have needed to be replaced.  His most enduring quirk is his front brake cable.  When the weather changes sometimes the right pad has been known to seek an unending embrace with the wheel rim and only relinquish with considerable force.  This cable keeps needing to be adjusted, with such increasing frequency that it may be time to replace those brake calipers at last.

People have character flaws too.  I myself am described as quirky by those who know me best.  But with people, unlike bicycles - whose parts can be replaced when they're flawed, such a thing is not the case.  When part of a person is quirky or flawed or not yet completely developed, you don't just get to switch out that part for a new one, for an upgrade, or the better brand name.  People are made out of more than that.

Perhaps I talk too much?  Perhaps I eat too slowly?  Perhaps I take too long to get to the point?  I know my flaws.  Perhaps I can't stand the sound of someone cracking their knuckles.  Perhaps I answer the question, how are you? - literally and not just with a socially constructed reply.  I know my quirks.  But there are still plenty of things I don't know.  This journey, this life, this exploration of all things that make a person who they are - is never ending, never over.  And that's part of what makes life great.

The Bill of Rights tells me my government has promised that it shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.  But what about the people that we spend our daily lives with? Have they made this promise? No they haven't.  So it's up to us to find the balance.

If we all listened half so well as Charlie, listening - we might see that some people are struggling so hard, with every fiber of their being, that their words today - be they excessive, awkward, clumsy, or few - are just the transition to the next step in their growth.  We might see that they really are doing the best they can today (everyday). True and lasting change comes from within, comes from internal volition. So rather than say shut up and do your job because they're not changing and growing on our schedule; rather than supplying what we think they lack because they just don't get it fast enough; what if we listened?  What if we listened and left space for people to be who they are and grow into who they will be?  Made space for that internally motivated change to ripen.  One might look calm and confident on the surface, but it just might be that they're fighting with the core of their very being, all while keenly aware of their faults, flaws, and quirks - trying to grow and change and do more with the parts they started off with than one would have thought possible.

My bicycle is more than just the sum of his parts.  More than steel, aluminum, plastic, rubber and alloys.  To me he is joy on wheels.  People are more than our flaws and quirks. One definition of humanism states that it is an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.  Humanism reminds us that we're more than the sum of our a parts, but still- never perfect - and as such always able to grow.  And sometimes, most of the time perhaps, people need to grow - and maybe they need help growing (that's why Buddhism exists in the first place).  The people in our daily lives may not have promised us freedom of speech, so it's up to us to find the balance.  When to speak up for ourselves.  When to listen.  But always to keep in mind we each need to grow. Sometimes that might mean saying, look - I'm doing my best today, maybe it doesn't live up to your expectations but I'm growing, I'm moving - let me say my piece so I can grow.  But the start is listening.

Charlie's a good listener, he's a great listener actually, for almost six thousand miles he's been listening.  What about the rest of us?

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Tour de What You Will by Jessie Calkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License