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Friday, August 13, 2010

Life - or Karma?

There is nothing like Karma. It is a belief system that comforts and empowers, often in times when we feel weak and powerless. "Karma's a bitch" we often say, and more recently I came across it's less-aggressive cousin, "Tread lightly through the lives of others - Karma has no mercy". More than likely as you read both expressions, you nod your head in agreement and belief (and...hope?) that there really is a system of justice that knows how to best reward a great act or avenge a horrible injustice. We just need to be patient, and let it unfold.

But at what point is it just life happening, or is it Karma? It's a tricky question...or maybe not.

Karma, at the end of the day, is truly a convenience, and helps one through situations when a punching bag or a therapist is unavailable, and taking justice in one's own hand isn't always legal. I have been wronged by people, and while I never wished them evil, I found myself muttering about how Karma will take care of them. Then, when they fall ill, or have problems that I find out about, I will smugly grin and say, "hey, they had it coming" as if their current debacle(s) was the direct result of what they did to me, and, if I'm feeling magnanimous, other people they've probably wronged too.

But I have to play Devil's advocate. As I age, I find it harder to believe that every great blessing or horrible misfortune has to be the result of something someone did or didn't do. We all know of people that have been good people all their lives and never seem to catch a break and die struggling. We also know of truly irascible people that seem to have it all or get whatever they want. That doesn't seem to be Karma in action. So, then, is the tenet of Karma a farce?

Getting older led to certain realizations. For example, that the longer you live the greater the chances of many good - and bad - things happening to you. Because, as it is also said ad nauseum, "that's life". I have been blessed with many good things, a good marriage, good family, good friends, good job. But I have also been cursed with financial woes, a medical issue that required three surgeries, bum ankles, vertigo, loved ones suffering hardships that broke my heart, and being yet another musician that never quite "made it". This despite all of my best efforts to be money-wise, hard-working, healthy, kind, polite, supportive and professional. I'm not perfect, but I'm definitely not Hitler. So for the many sacrifices I have made, why would such bad things happen to me and hinder my progress towards my goals? I would sit in moments of deep self-pity asking myself what I did wrong, or where did I go wrong, why wasn't I in a better position, because, believing in Karma, I should be rewarded at some point for the good I've done, right? I eventually had to accept the fact that this is the hand I was dealt, and I need to keep on doing good and right things. It helps make the world a better place, even if I'm not rewarded in the manner I feel that I should be. Perhaps that's more Fate then Karma.

Also, there are instances when a person has done horrible things, and then you would hear how they contracted some disease, or a dear friend or relative of theirs died. It's tempting to say that's Karma in action. Is it really? Reality: People get older, and they all will eventually have some physical ailment or discomfort. People die. People of nice people people become ill and pass away, too. That's life; not necessarily Karma.

What about applying the Karma Principle to the necessary evils that come along with having relationships with other people?

Take employment, for instance. What about the HR professional who is in the position to make or break someone's life, dream or goal? Or the Insurance Claims Adjuster, whose approving or denying a claim may save or break a family or business? Or the manager who has to lay off workers or justly terminate an employee? The result of these folks not doing their jobs can result in them losing theirs. Surely, there are those in every profession that abuse their power, are unnecessarily cruel, and enjoy making people suffer, and we would love for Karma to rear up and go get 'em. But it does not seem fair that those who do their jobs conscientiously and handle the unpleasantries of their job description with as much compassion and professionalism as they can muster, should be affected by the Karma Principle at all.

Also, what about the person breaking up with someone because they are unhappy in a relationship (and the other person thinks things are going great)? Sometimes someone's happiness may come at the expense of breaking another person's heart. If it is the right of every human being to be happy and fulfilled during their time on earth, then why would - or should - Karma wreak revenge on the person who wants out? It also doesn't seem fair that one half of a couple has to suffer unduly, so the other half can continue without ever being able to provide the happiness the other person needs - and the relationship needs - to blossom. As we have all seen at some point in our lifetime, most relationship martyrs seem to defy the whole Karma thing altogether by remaining miserable and hardly getting any reward for or relief from their suffering, so there is hardly any incentive for anyone to subject themselves to such an existence.

Lastly, is there a threshold to when Karma should kick in? I do not think anyone has an issue with Karmic Justice when it comes to people like wanton criminals, but what point should a minor personal slight, a true, unintentional error in judgement, or an innocent remark that wreaks havoc result in the antagonist getting rained on by chaos and fire? I generally pray for Karma to do its thing against those who intentionally devastate others, who are unforgivably crass or mean to everyone they encounter, who try to take something that isn't theirs, or break agreements that destroy friendships and families. Maybe someone else's threshold isn't as high. Maybe a driver who doesn't get thanked for letting a car merge in traffic, or someone who doesn't get a wedding invite for a co-worker's wedding wishes Karmic Justice. Is there a sliding scale for reward or misfortune when it comes to Karma, and who decides? It's touchy stuff that ultimately boils down to the belief system and individual quirks of the person who feels victimized.

The above is not to downplay the power of Karma as a coping/inspirational tool. We want to - no, need to - believe in Karma like many of us believe in God. Faith in the power of something unseen, yet fair, that will right the wrongs in the Universe, balance the energies and most of all, give us hope that something is out there fighting for us so we can achieve some peace in a chaotic world. We are fuzzy on the particulars, and may not apply it as fairly as we should, but if it makes people kinder, more thoughtful, and keeps people from doing something they shouldn't, it's worth believing in. Because what goes around comes around.


1 comment:

  1. I've been thinking a lot about this topic lately and this blog you wrote hits home for me. As a dyed in the wool skeptic it's a lot easier for me to accept "karmic retribution" as realistic and possible as opposed to higher powers etc. I have seen those who need to get what they so richly deserve and some go unpunished by whatever force is/isn't out there. Sometimes I think some of what I have gone through is a payback for whatever ills I have done to others too. Try as I might to tell myself I am a good person deep down, no one is without shade. I guess Peeper Keenan said it best to me when he wrote "what's deserved always gets served".