Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Reasons to Scowl

Originally posted on August 7, 2013

On the airplane home I noticed some scowling folks and I was tempted to judge them for being a little grumpy; but then, I shifted to a compassionate contemplation of why they might be scowling and jotted down the notes that led to the items listed below. I confess that I’ve been rather happy about having my soul-mate beside me and many other aspects of good fortune in my life. Not that everything is rosy in every way for me, but I opened to a goodly number of themes that I hadn’t given sufficient weight to, associated with a contemplation of the afflictions that many people suffer. Not everyone suffers equally from each of the following items, but many suffer from more than a few:
1. Many people have strong preferences, likes and dislikes, and to the extent they are annoyed by such things as smoke, chewing gum, crying babies, or noise or other events are often encountered in life, the degree to which one feels an unconscious inclination to object will mainly be expressed in that individual’s own level of suffering (as Buddha pointed out), albeit in the form of aggravation, annoyance, grumpiness, or the aforementioned scowl. Just having even unconscious expectations or wishes go unmet can lead to disappointment and annoyance.

2. Feeling more or less out of control can add to this without a buffering practice of surrender and a vague or specific mythic something—God or a dynamic of providence, whatever—to which one can surrender.

3. Moments of disorientation can be subtle but they have resonances, they make waves, unconsciously, and on the physical as well as mental system. People will often not admit to themselves the degree to which they become slightly disoriented, but it is accompanied by a loss of feeling in control that is not pleasant.

Some of this disorientation comes along with novelty, and there is much that is new even in familiar routines as air travel, ground travel, motels, automobiles, etc. Really, innovation often has an upside, offers advantages. But how do you access these advantages? Where’s the button?

4. Indeed, the pace of innovation proceeds faster than adaptation, so one finds oneself “behind the curve.” Kids pick it up easier because they have fewer or no habits to unlearn, no awareness of how the older way, the more familiar way, was in certain ways better. Sure, the new way is in certain other ways better, but that doesn’t offset old familiar habits. (There was a trade-off in having fewer options: That meant there were fewer choices to make, far simpler instruments to use, etc.)

5. All this is easier or harder depending on one’s innate intelligence. I suspect it’s a little easier, the onrush of novelty, for those who can pick up on the new ways more readily. But all this must also be balanced with all manner of other factors.

6. One of those is the presence or relative or absolute absence of others going through the same thing. Support, encouragement, sharing—these counter personal humiliation, shame, guilt, all of which accompany any new learning or adaptation.

7. The access to clarity is often unavailable or obscure. Still, just knowing that classes or help is available makes a difference, and for many, indeed, this is not known, and more, help is in fact not available. This adds to shame and guilt, because the culture instills a slight sense that help is somehow available, that mommies and authorities know the answer and we should have learned it if we paid attention. This is unconscious garbage, but it’s quite prevalent.

8. All this is made worse in proportion to other disappointments, frustrations, self-blaming experiences, being shamed or blamed by others, and other common social stresses. A corollary is the lack of support networks. Then there are supposed sources of support—tech support, police, whoever—people who are “supposed” to help—who turn and add to the wound by being irritable, or not understandable because they talk so fast, with or without a heavy accent, or are impatient.

9. Envy for those who have it better, or seem to, adds to the scowl.

10. Some people are predisposed to shame or guilt depending on temperament and religious background.

11. Aging can make things worse as the speed of change increases. First there are the many stresses of physical aging, and then there are the many opportunities to feel that life has passed one by. There is more fun, or so it seems, in advertisements and the continuing opening of frank sexuality—pleasures (it seems) that one has not sufficiently enjoyed or been denied, often by strictures of morality of one’s peer group. There is also the distortion that others have it better or easier—as noted in 9 above.

12. Anything that hurts or needs fixing, anything that gets tired more easily, the experience of memories that slip one’s mind, and all the rest that Shakespeare put into Hamlet’s soliloquy:
    Who would these fardels bear, [fardels are bundles of sticks]…
To grunt and sweat under the whips and scorns of time; the proud man’s contumely; the law’s delay; the insolence of office; the pangs of despis’d love; the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy take…

So these and other factors occurred to me as I was thinking about the need for increased compassion for those who scowl, and also for myself when I feel stressed or scowl, for the human condition.

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