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Monday, November 5,2012

What DonkeysCan Teach Us About Grace

By Cary Bayer  

I was watching the Democrati National Convention recently and noticed their logo, the donkey, and that inspired this column. The donkey, or ass—or what scientists refer to in their classifying jargon as  Equus africanus asinus – is a member of the horse or Equidae family, which were domesticated by us about 5,000 years ago. We also know it colloquially as the beast of burden. This jack and jenny (male and female donkeys, respectively) can teach us much more than Jack and Jill and all their water fetching, crown breaking, and tumbling down ever did. Maybe it’s time we created a nursery rhyme about asses. That’s because they serve as beasts of burden quietly, with grace, and without complaining.

Imagine what life in society would be like if people endured the burdens they confronted quietly, with grace and without complaining. I’m not suggesting that people become Job-like— that’s Job, the character in the Old Testament who endured tests from God quietly and with grace and without complaining, rather than job-like, as in the 40-hour chores people endure noisily, without grace, and with much complaining. (Happy hours were designed for people to drink away their complaints just minutes after their work was done for the day. Scientists are unaware if such booze Fests exist for donkeys, but early indications suggest that they do not.)

Oenologists are experts in wines.

Far too many people are experts in whines. This is most unfortunate because complaining about what happens or doesn’t happen in life interferes with the lessons that one can learn when things don’t happen the way one hopes or expects them to. There’s a class that’s marinating in the back of my mind that I’m going to give one day called “Everything is either Joy or a Lesson.” People are often joyful–the way they are after their third glass of wine has kicked in–when things go according to plan, but they can be miserable whiners when they don’t. This is sad because this is the Universe’s chance to present you with a lesson.

Lessons require a teacher and a student. Complaining interrupts the learning process. When you refrain from complaining and, like an ass—the donkey, that is, not the person who’s behaving like a jerk— you endure the burden quietly; the stage is set to learn the lesson that the Universe is delivering. With an open mind, you can inquire into what the teaching is. The lack of complaining, the openness of mind, and the inquiry don’t automatically reveal the lesson to you, but they certainly help. And once the lesson is learned, growth can occur for you, and thinking, speaking and behaving differently can take place going forward. You can evolve more from adversity than from success.

A couple of quotes beautifully articulate this point– the first from John Heywood, the 15th century English writer:

If you will call your troubles experiences, and remember that every experience develops some latent force within you, you will grow vigorous and happy, however adverse your circumstances happen to be.”

The other is from John Churton Collins, the 19th century English literary critic, who said,

"In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.”

By accepting our burdens with grace and without complaining, I’m not suggesting that you deny your feelings about what happens in your life. There’s great therapeutic effect in expressing your feelings as things occur.

Note the italics: Children express their feelings quickly as they occur and, in doing so, can move on to their next experience. In other words, they don’t wallow in it. Complaining is a kind of wallowing that robs you of your peace, robs those around you of their peace, and prevents you from learning and growing.

Doing lots of it makes you an ass, foolish like far too many people. Doing none of it makes you an ass, wise like the animal who has served us lovingly for five millennia.


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