by Sahlan Diver
(Note: The opinions expressed in any Subud Vision editorial are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the other Subud Vision editors)
The other day, I was surprised to come across a reference on a Subud member’s web site to something I wrote nearly five years ago. This member didn’t think much of what I had written. Apparently he found it so tedious he could hardly bring himself to read more than a few sentences. And yet, he had gauged enough from his brief dip into my 30-page treatise to accuse me of being “on a gigantic ego-trip”. Very strange, since the main thrust of my argument was about the need to move decision-making out of the hands of a minority, cosy clique of Subud meeting enthusiasts and place it back into the hands of the membership as a whole. Hardly a subject one would expect a rank egotist to be concerned about.
It occurred to me that there is a lot of this sort of accusation in Subud, and it put me in mind of the English humourist, Stephen Potter. During the 1940’s, Potter wrote a series of “instruction manuals” on the subject of “one-upmanship”. Somebody who wishes to be “one-up” on their fellow man must learn a series of tactics, which Potter refers to as ”ploys”, designed to make themselves appear to be, in comparison with others, the cleverest person, the best educated person, the wealthiest person, the most athletic person, and so on. By using Potter’s ploys, someone who had never played tennis in their life could convince the listener that they were once selected to play at Wimbledon; or someone with a fear of heights could convince others that they were in fact a retired, expert mountain climber.
A typical ploy would work like this: Suppose you wanted to sound impressive at a literary gathering – all you had to do was memorise some wordy, philosophical passages from an obscure book, then quote these passages loudly in reply to any point made, with the aim of making the speaker’s literary understanding seem shallow by comparison to your own. Nobody would have the slightest idea what you were talking about, but would be sufficiently impressed by your confidence to mark you down as a real expert.
Potter’s humour works through a combination of his inventive imagination, outrageous exaggeration, total implausibility, and that essential ingredient of all humour, a certain closeness to the truth, the truth in this case being the character of the 1940’s English, as influenced by their class system of the time, with its very apparent distinctions of money, education, culture and accents of speech.
Subud, also, has cultivated a one-upmanship, but, unlike the characters in Potter’s books, who are funny because they practise their one-upmanship maliciously in full knowledge of what they are doing, Subud members’ one-upmanship is not at all funny, since the practice has become so insidious that members are hardly aware they are engaging in it.
Subud has no hierarchy of class or wealth. Instead it has an implied spiritual hierarchy. However, whereas a person’s background in terms of class or wealth are difficult to disguise, a person’s spiritual standing is almost impossible to assess. We know we are probably all on different levels, but who is on precisely what level relative to anyone else, no one would be able to say. This makes for fertile ground on which the spiritual “one-upper” can practice their craft
Accordingly I present for your edification, in the style of Potter, a catalogue of Subud spiritual-one-upmanship ploys, in the hope that these ploys, which all act so as to deaden any possibility of proper debate and dynamic progress in Subud, can in future be recognized and stopped dead in their tracks.
Unlike Potter, these ploys are not the fictitious product of my imagination, but are all ploys I have observed being used, on more than one occasion, both recently and in the distant past, on myself or on other hapless members.
The “Ego-trip” ploy
Variations of this ploy are the “swallow your pride” ploy and the “too big for your spiritual boots” ploy. The ploy’s most popular application is for crushing attempts to suggest that anything should be changed in Subud. The ploy implies that no Subud member could possibly be interested in change for anyone else's benefit; their only possible motivation must be that they want to build their ego. Despite the fact that this opinion of Subud by an insider would hardly recommend Subud to outsiders, the ploy remains an extremely prevalent put-down in Subud.
The “Speck in your own eye” ploy
This ploy is an alternative to the ego-trip ploy. Immediately you hear someone suggesting that something we do in Subud is wrong, point out to the speaker that “if you weren’t so busy trying to find fault with others, you might then be able to see the speck in your own eye”. The aim of this ploy is to divert attention from the issue being discussed, and focus it on to the speaker, who is thereby made to look petty-minded and fault-finding.
The “Time on your hands” ploy
This ploy is useful when you need to quickly escape from a discussion that is getting uncomfortably near the truth. Remark impatiently that the speaker has “too much time on their hands” and leave the room immediately, thereby implying that you are too busy with important matters to be concerned about some idler who is only raising issues because they have nothing better to occupy themselves with.