When I push another man during a philosophical conversation, I want him to push back at me. In the rest of his life, he has gotten used (a) to being overly sensitive, (b) to giving in at the mere mention of conflict, (c) to apologizing. If he is prone to upset, then he has gotten used instead (d) to reacting mean-spiritedly or (e) to sulking. Most of the time, I converse with those who fall into the first camp, those summarily giving in. That’s not a good thing; it’s not good to be a soggy noodle.
Stop being a soggy noodle; it’s neither admirable nor attractive.
What I’m looking for is someone willing to meet my claims head-on. I’m looking for opposition. I can be wrong; show me that. Show me too that you won’t roll over or take what I said lying down. Maybe there’s more to you than I had thought. Good. Or maybe there’s more to you than you knew. Better. Quit being a softy and playing patty cake.
Ours is a culture of patty cake. Enough of that.
We need to learn a form of mutual struggle in which we’re not turning against each other but are in struggling, fighting support of what is more than we’ve been. We men should demand of each other: show me more. When I push, push back. Don’t take what I say as true; don’t take it lying down. Suppose it’s untrue; tell me so. And don’t take my provocations as you would a stern admonition. I’m saying things that can sting, can be heard for you to hear. Well, stand up for yourself. Defend what you believe not out of pettiness but proper pride.
Take pride in your ability to fend for yourself and to fend off this surprise attack. Stop dodging everything in life, overlooking it, neglecting it, brushing it off, avoiding conflict. Don’t go around thinking you’re gonna hurt everyone else. Quit it. That’s arrogance talking, an overblown case of your own powers. Please, you’re not strong enough, not by a long shot, to hurt everyone in your midst. It’s also weak to believe that as though everyone around you were subject to immediate harm.
We’ve made heaps of mistakes about the nature of gentleness. Jesus Christ and Laozi were both tough guys, neither seeking to give in but to rechannel their forces. “Turn the other cheek” is a sign of composure, forcefulness, the capacity to stand there amid the pressure and meet dangerous force with an alternative force. Christ is not suggesting that you recoil or that you retaliate. Neither. Nor is Laozi who would have us give up self-importance, Confucian morality, false ideas of ourselves, concern with reputation. Both urge us to renounce our “reactivenesses” in the hope of being powerfully present with what is arising. Both would have us go into that opposing force, grappling dexterously, anonymously with it. Not backing down, gentleness of the kind I’m describing wisely pushes through.
The paradox of gentleness is that it’s stronger than strength.
Stop seeking consolation, which is crap. Seek the truth, which is hard and wondrous.
My pushing is meant to elicit you pushing back and the hope of our pushing through. Should you fall back, then nothing can happen to you, nothing for your own good because you stubbornly persist in being where you are. When you and I are on the same side and I provoke you, step up, man. Talk back to me out of heart, heartiness, proper pride, and the desire to discover the truth. The truth is never discovered by the faint of heart.