Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Generous Integrity

Bennett Lane, Calistoga, California, USA

May 4, 2008

This essay, Generous Integrity, is the first in a group of twenty three on Integrity:

One of the biggest most generous gifts anyone ever gave me was not allowing me to give them a big, generous gift.

Giving and receiving is fundamental to being kind, to being generous, it's even fundamental to being nice. I've accepted gifts which I've never used. I knew in advance I'd have no use for them. But I accepted them anyway. It was the polite thing to do. It was the right thing to do. It was the nice  thing to do.

I'm not exactly sure where this comes from. Miss Manners  wasn't a schoolteacher of mine. There's just something about a person giving me a gift which goeswith  me accepting it (as Alan Watts may have said) - whether I would ever use it or not, whether I wanted it or not, or whether I needed it or not.

Ordinarily when we think of patterned, rote, automatic  behavior, we think of behavior which is unconscious, which doesn't work either for us or for whomever's on the receiving end of it, behavior we've simply been putting up with and would like to change but have never gotten around to changing, and / or have never been able to change - in spite of ourselves. We almost never include behavior we regard as polite, behavior we regard as right, behavior we regard as nice, good, and generous in the category of patterned, rote, automatic behavior. Yet the patterned, rote, automatic behavior knows no bounds. The machine doesn't care what side it's on  - it'll be right  no matter what.

In this regard, both the desire to give  gifts and the desire to receive  gifts almost always goes unexamined. Just because giving and receiving are held up to the light as polite, right, nice, good, and generous behaviors doesn't lessen the potential for them to be any less unconscious.

Is transformation testable?  If it is, one of the many possible litmus tests for living life transformed could be: where is a my focus  with regard to other people? If a hallmark of true transformation is the realization of one's true nature, of who you really are, then there'd be an expanded focus on others. Self, ie true Self, knows no bounds. It's been said "When I don't know who I am, I serve you. When I know who I am, I am you.". In a transformed life, there's a dramatic shift in how much attention is generously bestowed on others, in how much being  is granted  to others. Once Self is appreciated as all and everything  (and here I'm distinguishing Self as context), others are naturally seen as an extension of one's Self.

So where, then, in the face of generosity, in the face of giving  inside of the trap of patterned behavior, is there a call to examine even behavior we cherish most ie right  behavior, nice  behavior, good  and generous  behavior? Where in the face of generosity, in the face of giving, is my focus  with regard to other people? Spoken another way, where in the face of giving is the focus of me the giver? Is my focus on myself and on my giving and on my generosity? Or is it on the other, on the object of my giving, on the receiver of my generosity?

And the truth is it's all up for grabs. There's really no difference, once you've realized what's possible living life transformed, once you've realized what's available living the examined life, between patterned wrong, bad behavior and patterned wrong, good behavior. No matter which side of the line patterned behavior occurs, if it's unexamined it's unexamined. The machine  doesn't distinguish. At that level, it's all  automatic.

The Generosity Of Intention

In appreciation of a long, cherished friendship which produces immeasurable value in my life, I bought my friend a really great gift. The fact that it was also very expensive was actually of secondary importance. It was simply an appropriate gift to give in honor of and in recognition of the magnitude of our relationship, and as an acknowledgement of the enormity of my gratitude for our friendship. When I purchased it, I wasn't thinking what it cost. I was thinking it's an appropriate  acknowledgement.

I bought a fountain pen to give him. But not just any fountain pen. I bought the top of the line Mont Blanc Meisterstück  fountain pen. Nothing else could even come close to the appropriateness of this gift, given what my friend had made available to me.

I had the pen engraved with his first initial and last name. I'd planned ahead by watching if he was left handed or right handed. So when he held the pen to write, the inscription of his name would be clearly visible, the right way up.

There are many shoddy products on the market, the kind of products which simply get by. There's no pride in manufacture. They work half assed. They break frequently due to poor workmanship. Eventually you have to replace them, wondering why you ever wasted your time, effort, and money buying such junk in in the first place.

Then there are products like the Mont Blanc Meisterstück  which are carefully crafted works of art. In holding one, the balance is perfect, the heft  is completely, totally, and absolutely exact. You get a sense of pride in man's accomplishments just by writing with one of these masterpieces. And the fact that it cost me a couple of months of my then salary was also entirely appropriate. It was worth it.

The Generosity Of "No" With Integrity

I took my friend out to dinner at one of the most awesome restaurants I know. We watched the sun set from its terrace high on a hillside over the valley where I live. The entire dinner and conversation was awesome, simply an appropriate expression of our friendship, and one of those imminently magical moments in time which mark the closure of all past eras and the start of something je ne sais quoi  new. At the end of this superb, marvelous evening, at just the right moment, I gave my friend the gift I'd chosen for him, the gorgeous Mont Blanc.

He took it, opening the elegant wrapping, looked at it, examined it in detail saying nothing, then smiled and gave it back to me.

Looking me dead in the eyes, he said "I can't accept this.".

There are ways in which people politely  refuse a gift - at first. It's really a statement of modesty. You know they'll accept it eventually - if you insist. However, the first thing they do ie the polite  thing they do, the modest  thing they do, is to first refuse it.

But this wasn't one of those occasions - and I knew it. He was not  going to accept my gift. It was clear to me, very clear to me, he was saying no. Surprised at myself, I noticed tears forming in my eyes, and I tried to blink them away, hoping he wouldn't notice.

Composing myself and accepting this unexpected turn of events, I asked him why he wouldn't accept my gift, explaining it was an expression of my appreciation of our relationship, an enormous  appreciation which merited a carefully chosen awesome gift. His response was, for the second time that evening, not what I expected. He said it was a matter of integrity  he wouldn't accept my gift.

In the conversation that ensued - about integrity, about giving, about receiving, and (I soon realized) about expectation  - I actually got to see, in spite of myself, and in spite of the fact I was coming from a nice  place, a right  place, good  place, and a generous  place, wherever I was coming from was nonetheless patterned, was nonetheless unconscious, and (even though I found it difficult to confront at first) was completely and totally unexamined.

Suddenly I found myself swinging away from the sudden shocking  disappointment of my friend's unexpected rejection of my gift, and into an incredible awakening which comes only from carefully distinguishing inauthenticities in my life. I saw, with vivid clarity, that I had set up expectations of how my friend would react. I saw, with almost naïve embarrassment, how I had it my gift would get his approval. I got (and I really  didn't want to get this at first, but there it was - larger than life and twice as natural, and staring me directly in the face) that I wanted him to recognize how big I am for being able to afford such an item to give away.

As we spoke, as my background unconsciousness unraveled and could be seen for what it is, I noticed an air of openness had engulfed us, a space of clearness, sharing, contribution, and real  generosity had come on us. The fact that the Mont Blanc Meisterstück  was by now back in my pocket had no affect on what was now currently transpiring newly.

I said to my friend "I want you to know I get that when I gave you the pen, I wasn't giving it coming from integrity. I can see that now. I apologize to you for that. By not giving you the pen coming from integrity, I get that I wasn't honoring your  integrity. I can see that now also. I apologize to you for that too. I can see now that by saying no  coming from integrity, you were being extraordinarily generous  with me. I thank you for that.".

Then I said to him "Now that I'm back in integrity, will you please accept my gift to you?".

The Generosity Of "Yes" With Integrity

I could see the smile start to flicker on his lips. His eyes lit up. He was silent for a moment or two. I waited - in anticipation, yet anticipating nothing. Then he spoke. "I've never wanted many things  in life just because they're the things  to have. I appreciate fine things. Yet that doesn't mean I want them. But there are two things  I've always wanted. One's a Mercedes-Benz. I've always wanted a Mercedes-Benz. To me, it's the ultimate car. It's the only car I've ever wanted. So I got one. And I've driven it ever since. I want no other car. This is it for me.". Sure enough, I noticed he'd arrived in a Mercedes-Benz. Being something of a car buff myself, I couldn't agree with him more. They're gorgeous cars.

Then he said: "The only other thing  I've always wanted but have never gotten for myself is a Mont Blanc Meisterstück  fountain pen.".

I looked at him. He looked at me. Not another word was said. This time his permission  was palpable in the air.

In the silence that followed, I again took the Mont Blanc out of my pocket and gave it to him. This time he kept it, trying it out on a piece of paper I gave him expressly for that purpose, writing his name over and over again, then writing his name and my name together over and over again, lifting his hand up and down, up and down savoring the perfect heft of this, the ultimate writing instrument which he now owned, the second of only two things  along with the ultimate driving machine  he's ever wanted, the ultimate writing instrument, now his, engraved with his name.

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