I once read in the Tao te Ching (paraphrasing) “You are upset by behavior because you think it matters.” I’ve pondered that statement many times. Doesn’t behavior matter? If behavior does matter, how much does it matter? If we accept that behavior doesn’t really matter, how will people be accountable for their actions? Wouldn’t people just run amuck? Who would police the universe?
What I’ve come to realize is that the author was talking about absolute or ultimate truth. When we talk about absolute truth, we are talking about metaphysical realities. We are looking beneath the temporal nature of life. According to this perspective, none of us are our behavior. We are ultimately not our bodies and not our personalities. To believe that we are anything on the level of form would be, in absolute terms, is too limited a definition of the Self. It is important to remember this when we are working on forgiving ourselves and others.
In the relative world, the world of forms we live in, behavior does matter in that we wish our behavior to be aligned with the most loving expressions we can manifest. However, at this stage of life, most of us have played all the behavioral roles (some more humbling that others!): heartbreaker, heartbroken, generous, selfish, loving, cruel, aggressor, victim, the smart one, the not-so-smart one, the sinner, the saint, the abundant one, the broke one, the beautiful one, the invisible one, the disciplined one, the lazy sloth, the fit one, and the unhealthy one, etc. … Acting out each of these roles helps us to know that we really are none of these roles, we are so much more. Through contrast we move through our duality and transcend to a more ultimate knowing. This also helps us to see others as role playing, not the ultimate truth of who they are either.
When I was a therapist, I noticed early on that most of my clients were more comfortable being at the effect of someone else’s behavior rather than acknowledging their role in their life drama. I also notice most clients were more comfortable in the role of victim, for example, than aggressor. Sometimes, it is painful to acknowledge that we have been unkind, cruel, or selfish. But if we acknowledge this behavior, as a behavior and not part and parcel of who we are, we can begin our healing process. We can begin to forgive ourselves and others, make amends as best we can and we can finally let go of our guilt. The interesting thing about guilt is that when we feel guilty we identify with that behavior we feel guilty about and create even more of that behavior! What we think about expands. This is the law of attraction in action—in a way of course that we don’t want to utilize it! Guilt is certainly something that none of us needs more of. Healthy shame, which allows us to acknowledges our behavior and then begin again without beating ourselves up, is a much gentler and more useful force.
You are not your behavior and neither is your brother. Remembering this may be a powerful step in forgiveness.