Have you heard the one about the Victim, the Activist and the Contemplative? Yes, it could be the opening line of a joke.
And you will know these characters by their behaviour.
Victim – things are done to me.
Activist – I change things.
Contemplative – I behold things.
I don’t know how you feel about these characters.
Though the victim is probably not getting too much applause. ‘Take some responsibility for fuck’s sake!’ we say.
Though there are victims. My God, there are victims…
And at least the victim is aware of their feelings. They may, due to circumstance, be locked into a negative and avoidant interpretation of reality.
But at least they are feeling something, and naming it.
Whereas in an activist society, the activist is usually applauded: ‘They get things done! We need more of them!’
Though sometimes they’re so busy doing things, so busy striving for shift and change around them, (much easier than changing themselves) they’re slightly out of touch with their own feelings – apart from some messy mix of impatience, frustration and self-punishment.
And the contemplative can sound like a guru, super-spiritual and super-wise; though they may be a fraud – pretending calm on the surface, ‘I don’t do anger’.
When in truth they’re just control freaks, controlling circumstance, keeping difficult things buried and disengaged, while busying themselves with ‘very mindful meditation’.
I’m interested in all three of these characters because they all reside in me, where they remain in constant (and sometimes awkward) conversation.
I sense they can all learn from each other.
The victim reminds the other two to name what they feel. Accuracy about our emotional state is paramount to our health…and rare. I think of Jesus weeping at the death of Lazarus.
The activist (not unknown in charities, though there are other versions) reminds the other two that there is much that needs changing, that things can be better, the prophetic cry, like Jesus raging at the money lenders in the temple
The world doesn’t need the activist’s shame, often a hidden feature in their lives. But it does need their clean anger to name and call out injustice.
The contemplative, when well, reminds the other two that all things pass; and encourages them to behold reality without judgement… starting with themselves. I think of Jesus on the cross, ‘Forgive them father – they know not what they do.’
The contemplative begins to teach the other two the freedom of delight and self-kindness.
The victim, the activist and contemplative…it sounds like the beginning of a joke.
And if they are talking inside us, learning from each other…
…then truly, it is a divine comedy.