“take what you want and leave the rest.” originally, this saying comes from 12-step programs, although i’m sure that many people have said this or something similar waaaay before AA got started. btw, this saying does not appear in the “bible” of 12 step programs, the “big book“.
i have always been intrigued by the nuances of this saying. the main reason for that is, i think, that it has helped me not only to be more tolerant but also to open myself up to more resources in my life.
like many of us, i was brought up in a home where certain stereotypes existed. this is funny, because my parents were quite aware of stereotypes and tried to counteract them – but of course they had their own blinders.
one of the stereotypes that was quite ingrained in me – and i think i still have bits and pieces of it lying around inside of me – is that people who can’t spell (and i don’t mean making typos – that was ok – but somehow not knowing the rules of spelling) are uneducated and people who are uneducated are … well … there’s something wrong with them. (that’s a hallmark of stereotypes, i think: when you follow their trail, you’ll soon get to a real wishy-washy spot).
it seems to me that the more stereotypes i have, the more preconceived notions i nurse, the less i am open to the world – and the less i am open to the good things that might flow into my life.
to me, the idea of “take what you like and leave the rest” is the opposite of preconceived notions. it makes it really easy to walk into a situation, open a book, meet a new person with an open mind. then i look, listen, sense, feel and am free to say, “oh, this is interesting!” and “well, i think i’ll leave that part alone.” it frees me from making up (=closing?) my mind, allows me to walk through a new door and move on from there.
it also allows me to interpret anything i encounter any which way i choose. that’s a tricky one, though. doing this requires quite a bit of honesty, especially self-honesty. it only works if i leave my little ego aside and let my big self talk.
this all sounds very abstract. how about an example.
let’s take the first few opening lines of the quran or koran (i’m choosing this because i have no background in islam)
the merciful, the all-merciful, (2)
the master of the day of recompense. (3)
thee we serve, and to thee we pray for help. (4)
now if i had preconceived notions, i could immediately take offence to words like “the lord of the world”. what about the lady? and who says this god is the lord of the world – what about jesus or rasta, or how about nobody is the lord of the world? or “thee we serve”. that sounds pretty slavish. “the master of the day of recompense” sounds pretty suspicious, too – by “recompense”, do they mean “revenge”?
on the other hand, i can see if there is anything useful in these lines. for example, i kind of like the idea of there being an all-merciful entity. yeah, yeah, it’s supposed to be a “lord” but to my mind what they mean by “lord” is some overarching entity. “all-merciful” works for me because that way i feel that i have a) a model in mercifulness and b) i don’t have to shoulder the world’s mercifulness. that’s important to me because, as someone once pointed out to me, i suffer from a “morbid sense of responsibility”.
now what about “thee we serve”? if i wanted to make this phrase useful for me, how would i do that? in situations like that, i often get the sense of walking around the phrase, the way i would walk around a house in need of renovation (“hmmm …the stairs seem ok but oh my gosh, look at the windows”), or maybe the way i would look at an intriguing found object from all sides.
is there a “thee” that i would like to “serve”? yes, there is. a “thee” or “thou” is anything that i don’t entirely and immediately associate with myself. and if we keep things in context – that’s part of the honesty i mentioned earlier – the “thee” in question needs to be something or someone who i can associate with the idea of “lord”.
ok. so one overarching entity or principle that has these lordish qualities is the idea of good will. of wishing only good upon the other creatures populating this earth, and acting according to that wish as well as i can. and i gladly serve that “thee”! by serving i mean that i am willing to make that principle, that “thee”, a priority in my life.
i don’t know about the “we serve”. i can only speak about myself.
so i take the mercifulness, i take the “thee i serve” and, for now at least, i leave the rest. good night!
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