I recently received some very good advice which I have been thinking about for a week or so now, and I thought I’d share both the advice and my meditations on it here. The advice I received was this:

Not all doctors got ‘A’s.

On the face of it, this advice can be read that “even those in positions of authority might not be the best”. It suggests we can get to positions of life-or-death authority in life without necessarily ticking every box one might expect lies behind attaining such positions, and that’s reassuring in a number of ways. Firstly, it takes a little pressure off ourselves to be the best at everything. We can be good, or OK, and still do a decent job. Secondly, it enables us to look at others with a kinder and more forgiving eye – they’re also fallible and sometimes make mistakes. Even taken at this level, that’s an important insight. However I think there’s a further level to it.

Who gives out the grades? Schools, universities, people with the “answer sheet”; a system of ideas. Who decides who gets to be a doctor? HR departments, job adverts requiring certain qualifications; a system of ideas. Who decides who’s a good doctor? I’m sure some will say the systems in place to inspect doctors; many, however, will recognise the best doctor is the one who does most to heal sick people. It’s not quantifiable in an grade – here, on the ground, the A-grade certificates on the wall are meaningless; they don’t guarantee the doctor won’t kill every patient they treat. Another way of putting this is “there is a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path”.

There is value in being able to manage one’s preconceptions. Without preconceptions, we can’t be disappointed, because we take the situation as it comes. We can approach each moment as a single moment without the baggage of our ill-remembered past or imaginary future. We can also learn to understand that even the “best people” in the world have bad days, and start to recognise that we are all different, fallible, human; people aren’t defined by single moments and conversely even the “worst people” aren’t total scumbags. As Jedi, we cultivate the capacity to live in the moment, to cooperate with the situation we find ourselves in and maximise harmony with the universe. If we get offended or angry by every passing moment because of the preconceptions we hold, we are never in a position of true harmony.

But even as we acknowledge it is wiser to approach the world with a “clean slate”, we train (or, more aptly, untrain) ourselves so we can act in the moment, trust our and through mindful awareness operate from a certain structure of values which lie at the core of the Jedi path. And what is a value structure? It is a system of beliefs, ideals. When we apply it to our lives it equips us with certain ideas which others may have formed but which we perceive as true and valuable, but one way of looking at these ideas is that they are preconceptions; they are principles, maxims, creeds which ask us to behave in certain ways. They don’t necessarily require us to think in certain ways, however – what I’m getting at is if you want to make a pizza, you can do it a hundred ways, and still make a pizza. Ham and pineapple or Margarita? Store-bought dough or homemade? It’s still a pizza. And this applies to most things in life, including these value structures or other systems of belief.

We strive to follow the path laid out by the doctrine of our calling, but sometimes we don’t make it. That’s OK and not reason to fret. We can be hard on ourselves, systems can be hard on us, but at best any system must acknowledge that we are all individuals, behaving, understanding and thinking in very different ways, even as we aim to achieve the same goals. There is a tension between the “clean slate” and the predefined structure of a value system. Whilst we want to be open, we aren’t innately open creatures; or at least our culture conditions us to “close off” to such an extent the business of unlearning is a real effort most will never undertake. The values of Jediism include these seemingly conflicting notions in an effort to untrain us from preconception, and it’s not always easy. I’m reminded once more of the sections of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the Tao Te Ching which suggest one can be brought to understanding by writing in a book, but that the writing in the book isn’t the full picture. As I said earlier, “there is a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path”. The important part, I realise, is the effort; and the sincere desire to increase harmony, even if that’s sometimes hard, and even if sometimes we end up achieving the opposite.

Taking this back to the original advice then; the doctor who scraped through with ‘C’s might be a lousy doctor, but they may also be a fantastic one. They may not have met the criteria of one grading system, but the system itself could be flawed; the C-grade doctor may be the one who invents a new procedure or evolves new understanding, precisely because they don’t sit squarely with the established order of things. And the opposite may be true; they may devote themselves to a full and thorough understanding of the established scheme, to prove their C grades wouldn’t limit them. Both A and C-grade doctor will stumble on the path, but neither A or C grade is a guarantee of sincerity or care. Therefore the grade, certificate, position or badge can only serve as a guide, and only in a very narrow way (ie if a doctor told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?); they are no substitute for capacity to approach the situation with a good set of tools, a strong heart, and a head clear of preconceptions.

I am a Jedi, an instrument of peace.