No Praise, No Blame

by Christopher Lovejoy on November 25, 2012

Imagine, if you will, a world where no one praised or blamed anyone for anything.

We would no longer depend on praising or being praised, on using praise to feel good about ourselves, to curry favor or gain advantages. We would no longer become defensive in the midst of blaming or being blamed, using blame to justify ourselves righteously.

In this world, we would be fully responsible for our responses and reactions to what happens.

Here’s an example of what I mean: “I make myself angry when you say that.” By owning the response of anger, blame is nullified. A buffer is created. A subtle tension is introduced into the conversation that invites a response, clearing the way for clarity, harmony, and intimacy.

Such a practice, however, seems unrealistic, especially when the response becomes an uncontrollable reaction, which is why this practice requires a fairly extensive context of inquiry, which I’ll introduce later in this post, but for now, here are some more examples of owning the response:

  • I hurt myself when you say this to me.
  • I sadden myself when you blame yourself like this.
  • I depress myself when you keep saying this to me.
  • I frustrate myself when you forget to do this for me.
  • I concern myself when you neglect to do this for me.
  • I make myself anxious when you ignore me like this.
  • I annoy myself when you persist in doing this with me.
  • I disappoint myself when you dismiss my expectations.
  • I confuse myself when you say one thing and then do another.
  • I make myself insecure when you withhold your attention from me.
  • I exhaust myself when you keep doing the same thing over and over.

In popular culture, these statements would sound strange, and would likely generate resistance in those who hear them. Rather than speak them aloud with those you don’t know (or don’t know well), you might find it easier to say them to yourself.

Without praising or blaming, I help myself when I choose to bring the light of my awareness to how I feel in response to what you say or do – or don’t say or do – as separate from the essence of who you are.

Instead of holding myself hostage to your nervous system, I serve myself when I set appropriate emotional boundaries for myself and take ownership of my experience, of what feels real, true, good, or right for me.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 13

Positively speaking, in lieu of giving praise …

I inspire myself when you … (fill in the blank)

I admire myself when you … (fill in the blank)

I respect myself when you … (fill in the blank)

Renouncing praise, I’m less likely to rely on you for my sense of identity.

Renouncing blame, I’m less likely to be afraid of being judged by anyone.

Consequently, as I renounce praising or being praised, blaming or being blamed, I’m more willing to open up, speak my truth, and reveal the essence of who I am, which results in more clarity.

Favor and disgrace
seem alarming.
High status greatly
afflicts your person.

Why are favor
and disgrace alarming?
Seeking favor
is degrading: alarming
when it is gotten,
alarming when it is lost.

Why does high status
greatly afflict your person?
The reason we have
a lot of trouble is that
we have selves.
If we had no selves,
what trouble would we have?

Man’s true self
is eternal, yet he thinks,
I am this body and
will soon die.
If we have no body,
what calamities
can we have?

Those who see
themselves as everything
are fit to be guardians
of the world.
Those who love
themselves as everyone
are fit to be teachers
of this world.

(emphasis in the original; edited slightly to reflect more inclusive language)

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

Those who see themselves as everything are fit to be guardians of the world.

Those who love themselves as everyone are fit to be teachers of this world.

Could these be the keys to having autonomy, to living autonomously?

My Impressions of the Verse

I interpret this verse as giving advice on being your own person by coming from the essence of who you are.

For a good chunk of their lives, many depend on the approval of significant others to help them find their way.

Rather than explore, express, and expand truthfully the loving essence of who they are, they live through others by default, imposing their wills on others, and generating ill will through conflict and confusion.

Favor and disgrace
seem alarming.
High status greatly
afflicts your person.

Two separate but related issues are presented here.

In seeking ever higher levels of status, most know they need a fresh supply of good opinions to rise through the ranks. In seeking to gain or keep such opinions, they feel validated when they get them but not so validated when they realize they’re transitory.

To the extent that they fail to gain or keep them is the extent to which they feel afflicted.

The higher they go, the greater the potential for a fall.

Why are favor
and disgrace alarming?
Seeking favor
is degrading: alarming
when it is gotten,
alarming when it is lost.

Finding favor is not the same as seeking it. If favor arises out of merit, it’s a simple matter of accepting it and moving on. If disfavor seems to arise out of nowhere, it’s a simple matter of calling it into question.

Why does high status
greatly afflict your person?
The reason we have
a lot of trouble is that
we have selves.
If we had no selves,
what trouble would we have?

I’ve never experienced high social status and so I can’t say for sure if this portion of the verse is an accurate expression of the problem.

To me, some people with high social status appear to actually enjoy it, but I’ve also seen how often and how easily the so-called mighty can fall. For those of high status, is making time to cultivate “no self” a viable solution for them? I doubt it.

Perhaps the solution lies in finding a way to cope with the imposed restrictions of societal expectation.

Man’s true self
is eternal, yet he thinks,
I am this body and
will soon die.
If we have no body,
what calamities
can we have?

From a divine perspective, from the perspective of making transition from this world to the next as a soul eternal, any unhealthy (obsessive, compulsive, addictive, regressive, submissive, or aggressive) attachment to the body and to all things body seems rather silly and absurd.

Knowing that I’m here for a good time not a long time (from the perspective of eternity) can make it that much easier for me to live a life of meaning and purpose fearlessly and fully, regardless of how others see me, regardless of what they think of me.

Those who see
themselves as everything
are fit to be guardians
of the world.
Those who love
themselves as everyone
are fit to be teachers
of this world.

Here at last we get to the lesson to be learned to be applied to the world at large.

Those in touch with the essence of who they are appreciate the value in unity.

Potentially speaking, everyone in the world can be a guardian and a teacher.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

In a remarkable journal of discovery called Speak Love Not War: An Introduction to Green Psychology, the author outlines a process of growth into maturity that involves speaking a new language.

In chapter six of this work, entitled Why No Praise No Blame: Change Doesn’t Always Lead to Growth, But Growth Leads to Change, this growth process is given priority over the need for change.

Any focus on change takes my attention out of the present moment (“now is the moment of power”). The focus with change is on discarding things I don’t like or want, which sets up resistance to change. When the focus of attention is put on growing rather than changing, desired outcomes are kept in mind, but attention remains in the present moment.

The growth process follows five steps, which starts with cultivating an awareness of what we think and feel by being a witness to how we behave and conduct ourselves. Two ways to stimulate this awareness: “do things differently” and “experiment with new ways of being”.

Making ourselves the subjects of our own experiments in living, while incorporating the language of “no praise, no blame”, is one example.

With awareness comes the possibility for acceptance, of being willing to encounter something we don’t like about ourselves (or don’t want to accept) and then looking for the underlying need being satisfied, knowing that it’s easier to accept the need than the behavior it manifests.

When I make myself anxious, I sometimes nibble on the inside of my mouth; I do this automatically, without being aware of it. I find it easier to accept the underlying need to be in control than the behavior it manifests. Knowing this, I can ask: how might I better satisfy my need?

This is the third step: asking. How might I better satisfy my need to be in control when I make myself anxious? How might I better express my personal energy?

Perhaps I could chew some gum; eat or drink something that brings a sense of calm; take a moment to welcome and release the underlying feeling; do some exercise to burn off nervous energy; or simply set the intention to find something that works for me.

Next, I pause to get an answer to my question or perhaps wait a while after getting an answer to my question.

I might make some time to invite awareness of what is happening, to notice the difference between how I “do” myself (make myself anxious) and how I’d like to “do” myself (restore my equanimity), or I might make some time to allow my intention to manifest.

This is a time to integrate – to rest, relax, and receive. If you’re impulsive by nature, relax; take a breath (or two). If you tend to procrastinate, be aware that you might use this step as an excuse for inaction or inactivity.

Be receptive to that golden impulse to act – in the right way, at the right time, for the right reason, and when I say “right”, I mean “right for you”, which is an assessment that requires some measure of maturity.

And then act decisively in a new way, with a clear intention, which is the final step of the process. This could happen quickly or it might take some time for the golden impulse to strike. If needs be, exercise a little patience.

Stimulate awareness of who you are or simply be aware of what you do, of how you behave or conduct yourself. Accept the underlying need that manifests the behavior or conduct you don’t like or can’t accept. Ask: how might I better serve my need when I make myself feel the way I do? Wait. Be patient, be receptive, make time to assimilate and integrate. And then act, decisively, in a new way, with a clear intention.

In Speak Love Not War (this link is no longer active, updated November 30, 2016), the author summarizes this growth process with five key words: aware, accept, ask, await, act.

I have found that the more I grow, the less inclined I am to look outside of myself for validation from others. Seeking or expecting favor from others (even those with high status) is a poor substitute for being, knowing, and loving myself enough to be fully responsible for myself.

Renouncing praise, I need not rely on anyone for my sense of identity.

Renouncing blame, I need not be so afraid of being judged by anyone.

Consequently, I’m more willing to open up, to speak my truth, to reveal the essence of who I am, in my own way, in my own time, for my own reasons, which always results in more clarity, and sometimes, more harmony or intimacy.

I am more able to see myself as everything and I am more able to love myself as everyone.

I feel more fit to be a guardian of, and a teacher to, this indescribable canvas of a world.

Next up: Living Beyond Form

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This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

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