Do We Need a Little Controversy?

Recently one of my students asked me if she could ask my opinion on a controversial subject. She cleared her throat and with a little trepidation said to me” I hope it is o-kay if I ask you this. It’s a bit controversial, but I would like to get your opinion on it.” I smiled and assured her that she was safe with me “cause we all need a little controversy.” (Eminem) It makes us think outside the box.

Now it doesn’t matter the subject of this controversial topic. What does matter is how we look at controversy. It means to be in disagreement or divided. Certainly we can all agree that Americans are a divided lot. We all have our fast and hard opinions about a variety of subjects. If anyone of these subjects is brought up in a group setting there is sure to be sparks of emotional fire and smoky glares filling the room. Sometimes it can feel like there is no safe place anymore to question, analyze and debate.

My student gave me her opinion. She was taking a hard and fast position. It was very personal to her as she felt that the opposing side was creating a situation where someone less than “perfect” like her, might be eliminated to make room for a more socially “perfect” soul. Of course I quickly reminded her that she was a perfect soul and just as important to the world as anyone else.

I agreed with her view of things. I respect all of life and strongly adhere to the yoga philosophy, “do no harm.” But I replied that to take a fast and hard position on any controversial subject is to forget that we are here not to judge, dictate or impose our view of the world on others, but to be open to all points of view whether they conflict with our values or not. Everyone has a right to their own choices in life as long as they do no harm. But remember harm like all things in life is not clearly black and white.

We do not have the right to harm anyone or anything. But sometimes we must harm to survive. We may not like the fact that Arctic indigenous people kill seals and eat them, but this is how they survive and have thrived for centuries. It is not up to us to judge or criticize until we have walked “a mile in another person’s shoes.”

Controversy is good when it leads to constructive debate. My student began to think about choice. She could see that her position was as conflicting as the other side. No one has the right to dictate what you do with your body, your mind and your soul. Conscience should always be your guide with an understanding that choice is up to the individual.

Like everything in life harm comes in gradations. Harm is defined as something that causes a person or something to be broken or hurt. Sometimes it is good to break, but never to hurt. Break a habit, break a fast, break free, break a rule and break a glass…

Is it more harmful to end a suffering life than to let someone live on in pain? Regarding harm yoga teaches us to always do the greatest good for the greatest many. Sometimes this creates harm. Sometimes we need to harm so as to protect, survive and create safety and peace.

Controversy always arises when values clash. That is because value is never one sided. I value my free spirited nature. Someone else values the safety of conformity.

Do we need a little controversy? Yes, because the best way to learn compassion and understanding is to be faced with an opposing view. If you can respect without judgment another person’s right to choose, while holding true to your own set of values, you will find that, “it’s so empty without controversy.” If we let it controversy can makes us wiser and thus make the world a better place.

Doctor Lynn

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