I was listening in on a coaching session done by one of our Supercoach Academy students the other day and heard their client making a compelling case for why her situation was uniquely hopeless. As I listened further, I could see the inarguable chain of her logic, and was not surprised when the coach’s attempts to reassure and encourage her were falling on deaf ears.
When I thought about what I might have said had I been on the call, I realized I wouldn’t have attempted to rebut, redirect, or even offer an alternative way of looking at the young woman’s case. I would instead have called upon a somewhat uniquely named doctrine in jurisprudence known as “fruit of the poisonous tree”.
In legal terms, “fruit of the poisonous tree” is a metaphor used to explain why illegally obtained evidence cannot be used in court. Since the methodology used to obtain the evidence was illegal (“the poisonous tree”), any evidence gathered (“the fruit”) is inadmissible as well.
When it comes to being human, the “poisonous tree” is the idea that our experience of life is the product of our environment or circumstances, and that the way the world looks to us in a low state of mind is the way the world actually is. But since we live in the experience of our thinking, which is variable moment by moment, and not our circumstances, which change much more slowly if at all, any conclusions we may make about our lives or the world based upon that fundamentally false premise, no matter how logical they may seem, are “fruits of the poisonous tree” and inherently false as well.
For example, this past week has brought us the tragedy of Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and injured more than a dozen more because, in his words, he’d “been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me.”
Imagine meeting him in a bar before the fact and hearing him pour his troubles out to you. If you accepted his basic premise – that his experience of misery came from the people in his life and that the way the world looks to us in a low state of mind is the way the world actually is – you would likely go to work on his self-esteem and attempt to convince him that he was lovable and a good looking kid and would get a great girl one day if he just kept at it. Or you would encourage him to get out of his own little world and go do volunteer work in the inner-cities or a third world country where he could see what “real suffering” looks like.
But Elliot Rodger’s entire 144 page manifesto was based on a fundamentally false notion – that but for the behavior of others, he would be happy and fulfilled. The details of what needed to change and which people needed to do what were all fruits of the poisoned tree – and sadly, six people (seven including Rodger himself) paid the price for that misunderstanding.
I recognize that this example may still be too fresh in people’s minds, and indeed, the fact that he attended many of the same schools as my own children who are just a few years younger than him makes it seem close to the bone for me too. Yet I can’t help but think “what if he had known?”
What if he had known that we live in the feeling of our thinking, not our circumstances? What if he had known that the loneliness and suffering he was experiencing were the fruits of his own fevered thoughts, and had looked to the deeper wisdom and innate mental health inside him for relief instead of out into a world that he could only see through the filter of his own distorted thinking.
What if he could have glimpsed the oneness of life, and felt the deep sense of connection and intimacy with all things that makes the ups and downs of personal relationships so much easier to bear?
The truth is, most of the fruits of the outside-in misunderstanding aren’t so bad. People suffer a bit more than they need to, and don’t tap into the infinite creative potential of the deeper mind as often as they could. But every now and again something happens which reminds me of how important it is that we share our understanding and even more importantly, our kindness and compassion as best we can with as many people as we can.
It may not always help. But you never know if your next act of kindness might save a life, or if the next person you speak with that hears something true beyond your words will be the one to change the world.
With all my love,