The Late Night Buddhist: How to poison your mother-in-law

By Scott Taylor
Reader Columnist

If we are to believe what much of the media – mainstream, social, alt, Russian troll – tells us, narrow-mindedness and intolerance have become the norm in much of our culture. Our willingness and ability to consider someone else’s point of view or open our minds to new or different ideas has gone the way of two-dollar beers and good country music. While “good country music” may seem like an oxymoron (whud you call me?!), just like an old Glen Campbell tune we can find people willing to treat us with kindness, civility and respect if we extend the same to them. 

In 1970 Glen Campbell (look him up young ‘uns; he wasn’t just a granite-jawed pretty boy crooning songs about rhinestone cowboys and Wichita linemen; he was a very accomplished studio musician as well) had a hit song called “Try A Little Kindness” (not written by him) that urged “…if you try a little kindness then you’ll overlook the blindness of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets…”

There’s a story in Buddhist philosophy that illustrates how “killing them with kindness” can actually benefit both sides of a conflict:

A young woman married and moved into a house with her husband and his mother. It soon became clear that the mother-in-law would be very difficult to get along with. She criticized the young woman constantly, said mean things to her, and ordered her to perform all the unpleasant tasks in the home. The wife complained and fought back with her mother-in-law, to no avail. The situation became unbearable to the young bride, so she went to the village medicine man and, explaining her predicament, asked him for a concoction she could use to poison her mother-in-law. The medicine man said he could help her, but for the plan to work she would have to follow his instructions precisely.

He told her, “To avoid suspicion of who killed her, I’m giving you a weak mixture of poison. Put a little in her food every other day. Be patient; it will take weeks before enough poison builds up to kill her. In the meantime you must treat her with kindness and respect, and obey her commands so she won’t suspect you’re up to anything.” She agreed and took the potion home.

The bride followed the instructions carefully, preparing delicious meals and adding small amounts of poison to the mother-in-law’s portions. She also treated the old woman with the utmost respect and kindness, complimenting and caring for her, and dutifully obeying her wishes. After a while she noticed that the older woman had begun treating her better too, complimenting her appearance and doing nice things for her. They were actually beginning to like each other. The bride began to have doubts about poisoning her mother-in-law. She went back to the medicine man and said, “I need something to counteract the poison! My mother-in-law has become agreeable, and we’re getting along fine with each other. I don’t want to kill her!”

The old man said, “You don’t need an antidote. What I gave you was only a mixture of herbs and vitamins, not poison. All you needed to do was show your mother-in-law some kindness, and she returned the gesture.”

If we want kindness, respect, and tolerance (things that increase our happiness) extended to us, we must extend it to others, no matter who they are. And if we want to find good country music today…well, good luck. But I do know where I can find a two-dollar beer! Be happy!

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