the tough minded and the tender minded

the tough minded and the tender minded

The late Joseph Campbell (American, scholar of world mythologies and religions, college professor and author, 1904 – 1987), wrote many books on human beliefs across the world.  He is known for The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1948), The Masks of God series (late 1950s) and Myths to Live By (1972).  A point (or observation) that he makes in more than one of his books is that there are 2 principal types of individual among us.  What he terms the “tough minded” and the “tender minded”.  This is so in all human societies, whether among Pacific islanders, Siberian tribes, or modern western nations.  Let’s consider this in today’s essay.

The tough minded are the most common or prevalent type in the population.  They tend to look at things in a simple, concrete, matter of fact manner, take things at face value, do not often look for “nuance”, prefer quick solutions, etc.  We are not saying these are bad people, but, they do have a narrower or smaller comfort zone to their thinking than tender minded or more sensitive people.  This smaller comfort zone often results in rigid and even shallow thinking.  A generalization to be sure, but one that is true in many instances.  Their religious experiences and practices generally consist of communal worship in temple or church, and other outward practices or rites (usually as part of a group).

Campbell notes the importance of social consensus in communal or group worship.  He is saying, I think, that the individual worshippers’ faith is strengthened by the fact that they see around them fellow worshippers who at least outwardly seem to believe.  Similarly, for those who are not comfortable with questioning the “official” version of events in today’s society, it is the path of least resistance to accept what we are told (by the government, by the news media) when we see so many others around us accepting it.  One may think that the tough minded among us are more susceptible to peer group pressure to conform (to the peer group’s way of thinking and behaving).

There is another human response to, and interaction with, life in this world.  The tender minded type of individual gives expression to this alternative approach to living and thinking.  The tender minded are in the minority in every society.  These are individuals who because of their serious differences from the majority around them are often marginalized or shunned by others.  These individuals tend to more often look inward for insights than outward.  They think in different ways than the majority of people do.  They are not concerned with pleasing the group in return for social acceptance.  These individuals are often prone to moodiness and may seem very removed or remote from others around them.  They may be thought of as not fully sane.  Indeed, their brains may in fact be wired (interconnected) very differently than the “normal” or majority type brain is.  (We use the word “normal’ in a statistical sense (i.e. the mean) and not in the normative sense.)

Yet, these more sensitive individuals often become the shamans or priests in primitive societies (largely by reason of their inward experiences); are likely the majority of artists and poets in modern societies; and are the ones (mystics) among us who are sought out for their spiritual insights because they have had spiritual experiences.  (To be sure, there are charlatans out there, but that does not mean that there are not legitimate, authentic spiritual people in our midst.)

There can be problems from time to time with the tough minded in the society.  Being more comfortable with quick solutions or quick judgements, and being uncomfortable with uncertainty and unresolved matters, these people can be rather rapidly stampeded (manipulated?) into a group consensus that is not always correct or proper to the situation.  One recurring example from history is the headlong rush nations take into wars.  If only as much energy and enthusiasm were put into seeking and working for peace!  (And, not just among nation states, but also within communities, and within families.)

By the way, Campbell did not have a very favorable view of Christianity or Judaism.  Even in interviews in the last few years preceding his death, he seemed antagonistic towards organized religions.  I think one of his complaints was that the religions claimed to know more than they really knew and were too chauvinistic in their beliefs.  For instance, Campbell really had a hard time believing that every child born of woman would burn in Hell forever for not having been baptized a Christian.

There are another couple of things to mention today.  The Vedic philosophy talks about 3 main types of individual, or really 3 main levels of consciousness among people: those of goodness (sattva), those of passion (rajas), and those who are asleep (in spiritual darkness or ignorance, tamas).  Those attaining to goodness, spiritual purity, and a higher level of consciousness, are always a very small minority.  A larger group, but still a minority, are those who are ruled by passions and emotions.  These people are actively engaged in society but often in less than optimal ways as they harbor hatreds and anger within themselves.  The largest group in society is stuck at a very low level of consciousness, that of bodily (or animal) consciousness.  This level is characterized by inertia, inactivity, delusion, and ignorance.  These wretched individuals are in spiritual darkness as they go about eating, drinking, and sleeping.  Their behaviour is shamelessly sensual and they are prone to excess as in gluttony, alcoholism, drug addictions, and sexual addiction.

On Friday night (12/14/12), while preparing a simple supper, I was listening to a radio talk show address the horrible and heinous events of that morning in Connecticut.  One caller from the East Coast (USA) remarked that she had been a Christian and was now a Buddhist.  The radio host asked this caller why she had changed her religion.  She admitted that Christianity taught gentleness, and charity, and non-violence.  But, she had seen that the practice of these virtues for so many Christians was limited to the time they spent in their churches on Sunday mornings.  In other words, they did not practice the Christian teachings the rest of the time.  She, now as a Buddhist, was practicing charity, non-violence and gentleness each day.

Just food for thought.  Daily inner work is required for each of us.  No backsliding.  A person can change his/her level of consciousness through ongoing efforts.

Best wishes to all!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s