Friday, November 12, 2010

Kind Words

The Dalai Lama says just be kind, Henry James said the same a hundred years ago. I say it too, but I am not a kind man.

On the tram ride here this morning I noticed a girl reading a good book, a novel by Saul Bellow, who was joined at the next stop by her lover. The book was set aside as she leaned on her lover's shoulder, looked into his eyes, etc. Something easily identified, shared love, real for as long as it lasts.

My response to this sight was contempt for my own experiences of shared love. I don't know anything about this couple on the tram. What my love has taught me is the ugliness and stupidity of the human being. Every kiss I witnessed brought to mind the kisses I received with my attention divided, half on the kiss, half on the uncertainty of future kisses.

Kisses became for me an issue, a subject of study, a behavior we share with other animals. But only a species such as ours that can describe, identify, classify love, could bring itself to the point of resolving to use love to make money or achieve other ambitions. The so-called lower animals would do it if they could, but they can't.

Since we can do it we do it. The lovers on the tram have this possibility in their future, whether they like it or not. What I am witnessing is exceptional for the human species, a temporary failure of the species to completely destroy itself.

This being true, this being how we are, we are told we must be kind to each other. No doubt we are pathetic creatures. But if our love is in the hands of a perverse fate that has constituted the species such that only the luckiest and strictest education can save it from itself, it is yet true that our judgement is in our own hands. Contempt has a perfection love can never achieve. Kindness means sacrificing this known good thing, contempt for human nature. We certainly get a lot from kindness. It returns to clarity the world muddled by our anger and hatred. It prevents our futile acts of revenge and destruction, futile because they do not attack the cause of what angers us, our inborn liability to mis-education by each other.

The problem I have is that kindness seems to play into the hands of the mis-educators. It positively helps things go on as they are, and they are not going well. I think, with the rest of the angry people of the world, that though unkind words do not teach anyone anything, at least they do not contribute to the false teaching going on everywhere around us.

You have read in my last article here how writing for friends, and reading words written by friends, provides the chance for deep,meditative attention to words that require it. That is an example of the sort of kindness I can practice. But when it comes to individual cases....