Another musing on discernment.
Once upon a time,
I was a naive girl who skipped around merrily, carrying cotton candy and lollipops in her hands.
From a young age, I was taught to be nice and pretty and to compromise myself to give unconditionally to others. Because it was the right thing to do.
One of my earliest memories was one when I was about 6 years old.
I was at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City (the locals still call it Saigon by the way), and my family and I were on our way back to Canada from a month long trip to visit our relatives.
I had a teddy bear named Dolly.
She wore a red and white polka dot dress with a matching bow tie on one of her ears.
I loved her very much. She carried all of my secrets. We were inseparable.
She was given to me by a dear family friend who used to take me out everywhere. He had a fondness for me because we were both born in the year of the Dragon and he carried that part of his identity with an unsubtle pride. You’re able to sense his unwavering dignity in the loudness of his voice and his matter-of-fact manner of speech.
As we were about to enter the gate to the boarding area, my mother suddenly ripped Dolly from my hands and threw her to the other side of the gate to one of my maternal relatives. Her explanation at the time was that we had more than them.
I wasn’t allowed a chance to cry.
All in the spirit of goodness.
Fast forward to 2013…
I am getting off a streetcar at a stop in Chinatown and immediately I am approached by a monk.
He says only one word to me, ‘peace‘, and hands me a clipboard with a list of names and donations on it written in black ink.
A brief look and I notice that all of the donations were over $50.
I immediately take out my wallet and hand him a $20 without a second thought and write my name and donation onto the clipboard. Fresh out of university with a sizable student loan to pay off, I wasn’t able to give as much as I wanted. He hands me a holographic card with a Buddha printed on it and thanks me with his hands held together in a stance of prayer.
I smile politely and turn towards my destination.
The feeling of doing good can become addictive.
But the act of doing good may not produce the result you actually want.
I suddenly recall that the entries on the clipboard all had the same handwriting.
And of course I ignore the notion of being lied to and skip along my merry way.
I tell my friends about what happened the moment I arrived at our usual coffee shop.
It seemed to be a regular occurrence that a stranger would approach me while I was out and about.
And of course they laugh and call me naive.
It was known that our city had fake monks all around.
I laugh along with them, because it was not the result that matters but my intention.
All in the spirit of goodness?
Over the years I’ve learned to turn a blind eye sometimes to people who ask me for help.
There are individuals everywhere who are grasping for the nearest life jacket. You only have to open your eyes to truly see.
But what can you do when the only life jacket you have is the one you’re already wearing?
You have to help yourself first.
And you can only really help those who are already helping themselves.
Otherwise, you’re just enabling poor decisions.
PS: I ended up giving my mother that Buddha card. She probably still has it somewhere.