Zen and the Art of Not Responding

Om. (Matryoshka Doll acting as Stand in Buddha)

I am doing my dishes. I do them slowly, think about each dish, each spoon. I try to notice each tomato chunk and each coffee ground. I breathe in and out, feel and enjoy the warm water. When I have finished becoming one with my bowls, dishes, and utensils, I go back to my computer.

Still, at the top of the screen is a white strip and the phrase: not responding. If you have a computer, you understand this the most frustrating of all computing messages. So I go to water and become one with my plants. My computer is turning me into something of a Zen Master of household chores.

Even if we remove the context of failing technology, the term not responding elicits aggravation. When someone doesn’t respond to your texts, calls, messages. When students, friends, or family don’t respond to a question or point. When the president’s douchy evasion experts simply don’t respond to impossibly direct questions. The list goes on.

Out to dinner with a friend the other night, his four-year old daughter started playing with a similarly aged boy. Things were fine and dandy until it was time to eat, at which time neither the boy nor my friend’s daughter seemed willing to give up their play. They, of course, did what little kids do when they don’t want to hear the laments of their parents: they completely ignored them. And so the boy, glazed in a layer of mucus that will require shots of some sort, climbed on our table while my friend’s daughter offered him pizza. My friend tried to talk reasonably to them both, who, like my computer, were not responding, and then he failed to gain the boy’s parents attention, who, buried in their respective devices, were (you guessed it) not responding.

While his frustration cup runneth over, I considered telling him that my cat doesn’t respond either. I scratched that idea, then thought of telling him to go do some dishes. His facial expression suggested that I keep my mouth shut, which, in a ringing endorsement to social intelligence websites, I did.

Later that evening, I came home and clicked my computer to life. She was instantly not responding. Desperate for a domestic duty in which to achieve oneness, I dragged out my iron and its namesake board. Then some shirts who looked like failed origami experiments. While trying to achieve oneness in the act of ironing, I instead was overcome with the negative concept of not responding. (Yes, I know, oneness not attained).

After I was calm and my shirts were not horribly mangled, which is as good as it gets with my lacking talents to move a piece of metal over cotton, I clicked on Facebook. I spent a good half hour looking through humorous posts from my friends. There were a lot of cats, political humor, and something called a “romper.” Then I came across a political post that had gone abscessed. It was gangrene with fury, riddled with horrible slobbering aggression, finger-pointing from the left, the right, and whatever you call Trump’s followers. Your unpatriotic! [sic]. You’re a bigot! It was brutal.

As part of my job helping students develop arguments, we tell them to understand their adversary’s opinions as well as their adversary does. We shouldn’t seek to be correct, but rather seek truth. But when it comes to these political arguments, there are times I shout at my ceiling “How can these fucking idiots think this!?” It’s usually followed by an Ad Hominem dig such as “learn the difference between “its” and “it’s” you fucking dimwit!”

I berate my ceiling in such a manner today. But then, while my body and brain prepare to shoot out a scathing response, something tells me it’s not worth it. I run through the next few hours in my mind, during which I check Facebook for responses to my response and imagine the exponential development of vitriol. And so, I realize that the best way to handle this is by not responding. Whoa. Tricky bastard.

I still need to vent, so I go to my closet and drag out the mop. I need to become one with my kitchen floor.

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