The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Why Positive Emotions Towards Difficult People And Things Can Be Good

Here’s the thing, everything you experience is your consciousness. When you see or hear another person or any object, what you’re experiencing is a representation.

Again, what you’re experiencing is yourself;  your consciousness. This the heart of all of the “I am everything” spiritual forms. You have never known anything directly except yourself and you never will.

This is one reason why most spiritual systems emphasize positive emotions towards even difficult people and situations. “Love thy enemy” is about loving yourself, and it is intensely protective. When the Buddha said that a monk being sawed in half by bandits should feel love towards the bandits, that wasn’t to protect the bandits (who in Buddhist metaphysics, will get theirs eventually due to karma), it’s because if you’re feeling love, you don’t feel much in the way of fear: the two emotions are opposed.

(Relatedly, if you get rid of background fear and tension, what happens is you start feeling love all the time, though the feel is somewhat different from romantic love: it is not needy (this is not theoretical, I’ve experienced it, though I don’t live there right now.)

With something like Metta you start by sending out love to people you already love, move to neutral people and then move to people you hate. It’s the last step which is most important, though it is last for a reason: it’s hard.

What stops most people is the fear that if they don’t hate those who are dangerous or immoral, they won’t protect themselves or be considered part of the tribe. The key to dealing with this is having standards: not needing emotions to tell you when someone is acting badly. IF you don’t have those standards, then you can indeed get into trouble, and this is a problem in some spiritual communities, especially when people try to act as if they have attainments they don’t have and suppress negative emotions. You aren’t suppressing if you do loving-kindness or other emotion correctly: if you have the attainment, the emotions either don’t come up or they come up briefly.

Loving-kindness, compassion and so on are also useful because when something negative does happen, or does come up from your memory, the positive emotion is protective. Traumatic formations reduce over time, negative conditioning and fears reduce and if something new bad happens you are far less likely to wind up with a new trauma.

There are a lot of benefits to other people from being around someone who is constantly loving, but the Buddha and many other spiritual teachers didn’t suggest love just because of that: they did so because being loving is good for the person who is loving.


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  1. StewartM

    Ian, don’t you think that hatred and fear are combined? You tend to hate what you fear. By contrast, even if someone is very evil, but are de-fanged, the hatred fades.

    (I’m thinking of an interview of someone who had a job as an executioner in a state penal facility, and who thought his job in the military and as a paramedic had sufficiently steeled himself emotionally for that job. He said it had not; that it was emotionally stressful and draining to deliberately and consciously kill someone who although they may have done evil things, was now helpless and incapable of resistance. )

  2. Joan

    This makes a lot of sense and strikes me as something I can work on. Ian, if you ever feel inspired to do a book report on Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Representation, I would read that so fast!

  3. Ian Welsh

    Hatred has fear at its heart. Properly functioning hatred tells you who your enemies are: who intends to do you harm. But not all fear develops into fear.

  4. Bill H.

    Sending out positive thoughts to difficult people? Really?
    “For evil to triumph it is necessary only that good men do nothing.”

  5. Mark Level

    “Fear is failure, & the forerunner of failure.”– originally a Golden Dawn (late 19th century Anglo-French fringe Co-masonry) teaching, oft quoted by Aleister Crowley.

    Conflict is part of life with other yoomins, those who hate or fear excessively while in conflict often over-react or react irrationally and harm their own cause (even if they may overall be in the right during the conflict).

  6. Ian Welsh

    As my Sifu, who taught both Systema (the Russian special forces martial art) and tai-chi explained to me, a key insight of the soft martial arts is that if you love your opponent, you don’t get the stress response in fights which makes you clumsy, and so are able to defeat them much more readily.

  7. Willy

    If some conspiracy theorist told me that a handful of American-globalist elites have gained control of the cultural narrative by using advanced mob control technologies including the creation of their very own praetorian guard regardless of the cost to everybody else, I’d go along with it.

    Explain a lot, actually.

    Yesterday my boatyard mechanic nephew told me the US army would do a far better job than FEMA is doing in Maui. I later looked it up, and it’s a current Christo fascist talking point apparently.

    For my committing the sin of ignoring such talk (preferring to do more small-talky family chitchat sans any politics or religion), he quietly but within earshot told his leading tribal conservative Christian elder that I was “dopey”. Obviously, he was virtue-signal supplicating. That Leading Tribal Conservative Christian Elder knows that I’ve been frowning upon his way of doing business, which is mostly cash extraction from the meek which some observers might call “institutional grifting” and others “rent-seeking”.

    I’m still a bit weak on how to Positive Emotions Towards Difficult People And Things Can Be Good, especially when they claim to be on the team famous for preaching exactly that per their very own Jesus. Do I do some kind of loving jiu-jitsu? Or would that only piss em off?

  8. Purple Library Guy

    I do think it’s probably a bad idea not to spend too much TIME hating bad people or feeling fear or anger. But I am wary of second-guessing instincts too hard. There’s reasons we have this stuff, and although having it constantly makes stress and messes you up, trying to entirely stop it from fulfilling its function seems arrogant. It’s like when people decided that since we were modern now, obviously breast feeding was primitive and obsolete and we should put stuff in bottles instead.

    Before I decided to try going for that I’d want a line of reasoning behind it that was a lot more rock solid than a sort of quasi-solipsism which I do not find very convincing. Humans have evolved as social animals, we totally have a mental model for other people being different existences from ourselves; I don’t think there is any serious sense in which our anger and hate inherently rebound on ourselves. In practice they often do, but mostly because often we are, deep down, uneasily aware that the targets of our hate do not deserve it. But if you’re careful and stick to just hating people like Dick Cheney I think you’re fairly safe.

  9. Soredemos

    Gonna hard disagree on thihs. First of all, as ever, all of of this is impossible to square with the ‘know who your enemies are and act accordingly’ stuff.

    Hatred and fear are evolved emotional states that are there for a reason. Listen to them and then subject them to rational review to see if they hold up. You shouldn’t let then consume you, and if there’s anything at all to this ‘love your enemy’ stuff (which is self-evidently a ludicrous concept on its face, if taken literally) it’s that you aren’t actually loving them, you’re just substituting something that isn’t fear and hate as a filler emotion so your aren’t clouding your judgment. But it isn’t actually love.

    ‘Love your enemy’ is an especially dangerous vice if you’re ever in any kind of leadership position where you’re in any way responsible for the well-being of other people. Your love of the collective should never be subordinated to your (supposed, I maintain fake) love of a disruptive individual. At some point the only responsible course of action is to start kicking out the assholes.

  10. mago

    Sure, it’s a challenge to extend loving kindness and compassion to the Nulands and the Stalins of the world. The Blinkens and the Soros, let alone the under the radar porno institutions and those who fuel them.
    Rape and murder it’s just a shot away.
    In a world of chaos and confusion what’s a poor boy to do but carry on with a heart full of love and soul?

  11. capelin

    Ian, I am liking the meditation post and this one, they go well together. They’ve woven into my ongoing processing of various sensory inputs and ideas.

    Re “loving your enemies” and all, I hew towards an everyday version of that, for practical reasons if nothing else. If you understand _why your enemy is doing what they are doing… well, knowledge and perspective and compassion is power. Embody them, within the larger practical realities and tools at your disposal, and it will be an advantage.

    Plus, it’s way less mentally draining to hate a system or situation or behavior, than a person.

    “once you realize many people are traumatized children in adult bodies, you stop taking this s-it so seriously” ( from somewhere on the internet).

  12. Trinity

    This is very Daoist, very much so, but with a different reasoning for the same behavior. The Dao the one I prefer. See any reference to the I Ching for more information.

    So I fully agree with Ian, with the caveat that all that is required is to let the party know that you don’t like what they did and why. Such feedback, when appropriate, is a positive things to do with the right person. Choose carefully who you choose to tell. Some people should just be ignored, or they will deliberately escalate the situation.

    An example, in my own words: if you choose to truly wage war against darkness, you may become as dark as what you are fighting (think about that). Conversely, reacting with despair and negativity shuts you and your creativity down, and I can definitely tell you that you and your creativity are very much needed in these dark times.

    Constantly trying to convince others to be good just wears you out. This is basic “you can’t change others, only yourself” unless you are a control freak, an abusive spouse, partner, relative, parent, “friend”, or part of the PMC.

    The best day-to-day approach is to maintain a sense of disengagement on the outside, while maintaining a sense of perseverance on the inside. Don’t focus entirely/exclusively on negative actions and events, and whenever possible allow these to pass without being attached to them (stating attached is sometimes called saving stamps, as in I’ll ‘pay’ him back for that one day! kind of thing).

    And it’s useless to hate anyone you have no influence over. It’s useless to hate anyone, period. All you are doing is wasting your own precious time. Being critical of someone and truly hating them are two very different actions, and will have different effects in your life. Invest your time wisely, as they say.

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