I recently got a question from someone asking advice on “How to deal with crazy people?”
There are all kinds of people in this world. Some people are angels, others are assholes. Most people are somewhere in between. But this spectrum (should we call it the A-A spectrum?) is not all there is to defining what people are.
Some people are just crazy.
Of course, a statement like that begs for a definition, but I’m not going to provide one for you. Calling someone crazy, much like calling someone an asshole, is too relative and judgmental. In the cultivation and teaching arts, we strive to avoid attachment to labels like “crazy, asshole, angel, etc.” They tend to stereotype and group people without due consideration to their individual character. But we do recognize that colloquially, these words are used. That is, most people will occasionally come across someone who is, for a lack of a better word, crazy.
In some cultures, the crazy people – the British might say ‘madmen’ – are thought to have seen a glimpse of the God’s face. What is certain is that they see the world differently than most people. For some, their perspective is so different they become dangerous. These people are not all locked up, but the truly dangerous ones can generally be avoided if you take reasonable self-defense precautions. These aren’t the people we’re talking about here.
Most crazy people are relatively harmless and somehow manage to function in society.
Let’s just say crazy has degrees, or shall we say variations.
Certain activities, like Qigong and Kung Fu, tend to attract those who are crazier than others. That is why my friend, a Tai Chi teacher, asked the question. Here’s a summary of what I shared with him.
The Kung Fu crazies are usually those who think they are (or want to be) Bruce Lee reincarnated, or something like that. Most of them are not so much crazy as they are lacking serious perspective. Sadly, they probably won’t get it until they run into someone (perhaps someone who falls on the wrong end of the A-A spectrum) who teaches them a hard lesson.
On the spiritual or Qigong side, you might meet “Thor” (Note: fantasy name changed to protect fantasy identity.) Who is channeling the spirits of deceased Druid Extra- Groovy High Priests from Pluto. Who knows, maybe he is channeling something. While it’s possible for this phenomenon to happen, it is far rarer than people would like to believe. For the most part these people are harmless, and are usually perfectly happy with their current situation. At most they usually just take up a little time while they tell you something about themselves. If you weren’t trying to work with a group of Qigong students, they might even provide you with a plot for a bad Hollywood B movie script.
The third major category of “crazy” people is those in serious need of help. They usually know they need help, but the way they ask for help is, well, not always normal. They might for example, have a real medical problem but blame the root cause of the problem on some nebulous conspiracy. These people can be the most difficult to deal with because their problems often prevent them from getting the help they need. So what should you do when these people show up? Should you shut them out? Should you try to “fix” them?
As Taoist and Buddhist cultivators, we have a concept of synchronicity. That is, things happen, people show up, because of certain conditions. Buddhism relates it to the law of cause and effect. The Chinese would say that “you have common affinity”. Yes, as strange as it sounds, that means that you and “Thor, the Channeled Spirit of the Dead Druid High Priest from Pluto” have a connection.
Buddhism asks its practitioners to have compassion.
Taoism reminds its practitioners that “softness and gentleness is the application of the Tao.”
So, when “Thor” shows ups, consider a few things. First, unless you are in a profession that is qualified to treat that person’s problem with a particular modality, don’t try to fix them. Instead refer them to a professional who you believe can help them. This is just common sense and applies not only to crazy people, but to everyone.
Second, before you give your advice, find something in them to which you can relate. Because they are ‘crazy’ they will likely have a hard time understanding suggestions that imply they aren’t normal. For example, telling “Thor” to “go see an exorcist” is probably not going to help, even if that is what he should do. You see, such a suggestion carries with it so many unwritten connotations that it can be extremely hard for him to accept without other conditions being in place. When you can find something in other people that you can relate to, it means that you have found a way to connect with them. If you can connect with them in a way they can trust, then your gentle suggestion is more likely to be accepted.
Third, you have to learn how to manage the time these people will want to take up in the class. In some cases, you might have to ask them to leave. But in most cases, you can probably find a way to help them, even if just a little bit. For nothing else, a kind word might be in order. In any case, the important point is there is a middle way to walk between having the crazy person disrupt the class and totally shutting them out.
Remember, even crazy people have real problems. Use compassion, wisdom and gentleness. It might even help them. And you might even get a movie plot…