If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own boat,
He will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout to him to steer clear.
And if the shout is not heard he will shout
Again, and yet again, and begin cursing –
And all because there is somebody in that boat.
Yet if the boat were empty,
He would not be shouting, and he would not be angry.
(Chinese mystic Chuang Tzu)
What is the point of this story, for us?
The point is that the psychopath who came crashing into our lives was, in fact, an empty boat. They were compulsively driven to act as they did by a brain disorder, therefore they could not have acted differently.
Until we realize this, we remain prisoners of our grievance and our past, which prolongs healing and keeps us closed to the currents of life and love that are flowing around us.
Of course, we believed there was someone driving that boat. We thought we knew that person intimately. But now we know there was no one at the helm. It was just an empty boat on a foggy lake.
We’ve all heard that psychopaths know right from wrong, but they just don’t care. The truth is, they know right from wrong—but they just can’t care. Their disorder leaves them without a conscience and unable to love. Remaining angry long after they’re gone, after we learn the truth, is like staying angry at an empty boat that rammed into our own.
Once we understand the boat that hit ours was empty, we can focus on rebuilding ours without the ongoing anger that slows and complicates the process.
When we see life as it is, rather than our thoughts about it, we can move forward through calmer waters with a little less effort.
Understanding that psychopaths have a brain disorder that makes them act the way they do can help resolve anger, self-blame, doubt, and confusion. There’s still a lot to deal with. But this shift in perspective made a difference for me, and I hope it will for you, too.
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