How Faith in People Can Interfere with Social Judgment

A thief is always a thief.

Posted Aug 04, 2009

Yogi Bhajan tells the story of the turtle, the alligator and the two friends who need to cross a river. It is an allegory about trusting what you intuitively know to be true, despite appearances, assurances and perceptions to the contrary. If you know a thief to be a thief, then s/he is undoubtedly always a thief or, more to the point, people are nothing if not consistent.

Two friends, needing to cross a river, happen upon a turtle and an alligator resting on the bank. The turtle and the alligator both offer to take the friends across the river. One man climbs onto the turtle's back and is soon on his way. The second man stands aside, skeptical of the alligator. While the alligator plies him with assurances, the man remains reluctant.

Finally, the alligator convinces him - or, rather he convinces himself - that the alligator is not being disingenuous, and that it will all work out. Halfway across the river, the alligator turns around and bites the man. The man says, "Hey, you said it was safe to ride on your back across the river and that you wouldn't bite me!" To which the alligator replies, "I'm an alligator."

This story was related to me by my dear friend Lea, a gifted Yogini and teacher who was a student of Yogi Bhajan. We were talking about faith in people and how seeing people and things for whom and what they are, while not allowing our intuition and judgment to be clouded by whom and what we want them to be, is a very useful lesson to keep in front of us.

Very often our need to have a person or situation be something other than the presenting reality compels us down a garden path that ends up in a place that we not only did not intend, but in which we don't really want to find ourselves at all. Staying clear keeps us centered, helping to deflect the potential for both disappointment and expectations unmet. Ignoring the cues that might allow us to receive more clearly the truth of a situation prompts in us a degree of self-delusion that can, potentially, be quite destructive.

If I need you to be present and invested in our relationship and notice, but choose to ignore, the cues telling me that you are not in service of that need, I am the only one to blame when I get my heart broken.

If, motivated by my own desire for safety and stability, I choose to ignore the signs and signals indicated that I am being marginalized and set up for dismissal from my job, then it's my fault that I am not prepared when I find myself unemployed.

If, driven by a poverty mentality and sense of lack, I ignore my bank balance because I am afraid to know how much money I actually have, and end up bouncing checks because of it, I have no one to blame but myself when the fees start to pile up.

Making an effort to see the alligator for the alligator and the turtle for the turtle strips away the self-delusion that leads us down that garden path. We then engender a more authentic experience of our world, and end up being much less likely to find ourselves hurt, disappointed or knocked off of our center.

© 2009 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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