Saturday, September 1, 2012

Straight Shooting

Scott Bradley

The mature person is like a good archer:
When he misses the bull's-eye,
he turns around and seeks
the reason for his failure in himself.
(Chung Yung 14; Mitchell)
I've shared this simple passage before since it so succinctly states at least one aspect of what it means to take responsibility for oneself.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of Confucian moralizing also implied. The mature archer who misses his mark must take full responsibility for the miss. He doesn't look around for someone else to blame. But should he blame himself? He missed because he is not the archer he would be. Need he blame himself for who he is? Can he take responsibility without that equating to blame?

He missed ‘because’ someone coughed just as he released. His concentration is not yet perfect. He might thank the cougher for making this clear. But where is the "failure"? Might he not just as easily treat his lack of concentration as he treated he who coughed? Might he not also thank himself for making it clear? Taking responsibility for one's interface with reality need not equate to guilt and blame.

Mitchell quotes Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971) in this context: "Everything's perfect, but there's a lot of room for improvement." (The Second Book of the Tao) This is not intended as an ironic joke; it's a statement that attempts to express that essential truth that not-one is also One. Oneness is the fundamental given and the place from which the realization of Oneness begins. Guilt and blame are a consequence of not-oneness unaware of this reality.

I said that this aphorism reveals only part of what it means to take total responsibility for oneself. Were archery a team sport, it would reveal more. If our archer hit his mark, but a fellow team member did not, would there be room for justifiable blame? He has lost the gold medal for the team. Yet, didn't he do his best? No, he was drunk. Yet, isn't his drunkenness a consequence of precisely who he is? He still did his best — the best a drunk can do. It's his responsibility to deal with his demons; it is my responsibility to thankfully accept how ever and with whatever success he manages to do so. Indeed, doesn't his miss teach me, more than my own would have done, what it is to accept things just as they happen?

Is all this a shirking of responsibility in the name of taking responsibility? Who, in this case, is not taking responsibility? No one for whom I am responsible. And that is all that matters. The moment I blame someone else for not being how I believe they should be it is I who has failed of my responsibility to accept reality just as it is.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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