Monday, April 26, 2010

The Middle Way

Potsdamer Strasse/Bülowstrasse
Potsdamer Straße/Bülowstraße, Berlin, 2010

One of the first things I learned about Buddhism was that it was called the Middle Way; something that traces a path between excesses of self-mortification and self-indulgence. I've come to think that there's rather more to it than that.

There are always problems, dilemmas, decisions to make, and it seems there are pitfalls everywhere. Every decision can go wrong; turn around and bite itself right in the ass, and defeat the purpose that was intended. I've written about a few of the dilemmas I've been grappling with right here. There was the post about fundamentalism versus dharma surfing, and another about repression.

I've come to see more and more things in these terms: trying to find the narrow path between the rock and the hard place, the frying pan and the fire, Scylla and Charybdis.

People ask me for help a lot at work. If I help them, they're happy, but it means I'm neglecting stuff I've committed to doing, which causes problems later down the line, for myself and others, and if I do it too much, they stop trying to figure stuff out by themselves and just expect me to solve the problems for them. If I don't help them, they're unhappy, they sometimes spend way more time doing stuff I could solve easily, it throws off their schedules, and causes all kinds of problems down the line, plus I feel guilty about being a dick.

I've tried different approaches to solving this. I've printed out some traffic lights and hung them on my cubicle. Green means I'm happy to be disturbed. Yellow means that if it's really urgent, go ahead and ask. Red means I really don't want to be distracted. I've also promised to keep the light green all day every Monday, and I've made it clear that I'm making estimates based on the assumption that I really have four days a week to work on the stuff I've committed to do. Thus far, it's working out pretty well -- I'm on schedule, and nobody seems to hate me too badly, and I manage to help out in ways that really do make a difference.

Whatever this stuff is, it's not easy. There are always unintended consequences, to choosing and not choosing, any course of action you take, or no action at all. I don't know if there is a path weaving between all those extremes, all the ways in which things can go wrong, but so far, the process of looking for it has been working out pretty well for me. I make mistakes all the time, but looking at them this way makes it a bit easier not to compound them.

Less than a week of April left.

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