As you’re traveling the road, it’s a strange and frightening thing to look around and suddenly realize that most of the world is not walking with you, that what you believe is right and wrong is actually not at all what most of the world accepts or lives by.
At first, it makes the world seem so sad and dark, almost post-apocolyptic, despite the smiles on everyone’s faces. How can I be a part of this world? I can’t live by these standards.
But then it doesn’t seem so bad. You’re just looking at the world the wrong way. You are the enlightened. It’s everyone else that will eventually discover the sad darkness of their world; they’re only smiling because they’re looking down most of the time. They haven’t reached the ends of their chains yet, so they don’t yet realize that they are slaves. But you are not a slave. You know how to look around for chains, and you can’t be chained if you’re always on the look out for them.
Oh, how vain this all sounds! Do I think I’m better than everyone else?
Not intrinsically, and certainly not everyone. They all have the capacity to shed their chains if they want to anyway. But the chains feel good. I’ve been in chains before. I admit that I unfortunately still even let them slip on from time to time. But without them, I can certainly see more than many others. I can understand more. If that sounds vain or prideful, so be it. I am not fooling myself into thinking I can see everything, after all. But I am not going to say that what I see might not be there just because so many others can’t see it. I am not going to disbelieve my eyes for the sake of people who aren’t even looking where I’m looking.
But isn’t it arrogant to think of them as slaves?
No. Why should it be? It would probably seem arrogant to try to help them out of their chains by saying: “Hey, look around! You are a slave!” That wouldn’t help.
And it would be prideful to presume that I’ve got all my chains off, wouldn’t it? Maybe there are chains I can’t see, or chains I’ve let slip back on without noticing. But I can’t deny the existence of chains just because of this. Nor can I stop caring about them. At least I am aware of them and can work to get my own chains off.
Isn’t this a bit wacko? Haven’t I met others who have warned me about chains that are foolish to believe in? Don’t some people see chains where there are none? Yes. They see some real chains, and then they mistake so many other things for chains. “Your shoes are chains!” “Your glasses are chains!” No, they’re not. I think they are mad. And don’t those who don’t see chains at all think I am just as mad? Is there any way to deal with that?
Perhaps not. I can only be honest with myself.
So what about the chains of others? Should I do anything about them? Can I do anything about them? What relationship am I to have with this world that I think is so dark and sad? I certainly can’t force people out of their chains. If only it were so easy. Chains can only be removed by the person in them. Should I ignore the chains of others and just encourage them to look around for them by my own chain-free actions? Perhaps that is the best way. Perhaps the only way. And if they never get out of their chains, so be it. I cannot blame myself for it.
But I still struggle with what I should feel about them. In their chains, they do things that hurt me and each other. They kill (“that’s not a person” or “he deserves death”), they imprison unjustly (“we must force each other to do things”), they lie and steal (“he doesn’t need this; I should have it”). I often feel inclined to hurt them back. But that is the tug of a chain I shouldn’t be bearing. But they don’t have to be in chains! I am so angry with them!
Should I feel sad that they are in chains, or happy that I am not?
I don’t think sadness will get anyone anywhere, as natural as the reaction is. As long as I keep vigilant with my happiness, that is the path I must stick to. If I am happy that I am not in chains, then at least I am keeping the chains away. It is hard, because the chains do slip on sometimes and are comforting, and tearing them off can be painful at first. But the happiness possible without them is a clearer happiness.
A constant struggle, but the road always ends in light, and it will be easier to travel if I keep that in mind, if I am looking forward and not backward.