DAY 297: A SMALL THOUGHT ON KINDNESS
Today I read a blog entry by Robert Ebert , the Pulitzer winning film critic who recently passed away. It was written in 2009 and discussed his thoughts on death a number of years before he reached his own end. The post is called ‘Go Gentle into that Good Night’ and it touched me deeply. Here is a small excerpt:
” I drank for many years in a tavern that had a photograph of Brendan Behan on the wall, and under it this quotation, which I memorized:
“I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals.I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.”
For 57 words, that does a pretty good job of summing it up. “Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”
I’ve been struggling for a while to connect the dots in my head. For all the philosophy and psychology I have studied some of the simplest things in life have alluded me
I know that being kind to others is important. I know that being kind to yourself is important. I know that caring about animals is important. But just how all the pieces fitted together is tricky. And dammit, its so BORING to be kind. No one PAYS you. Much better to eat a steak and laugh at the man who slips on the banana skin.
But I have fought a lifetime to stop that terrible critic in my head that says I am not much good. Maybe it is many lifetimes. I have tried to heal the fight between the soft part of me that cowers in the corner of the room and without words, and the dominant part that screams at it from the other side on an extremely big tall chair.
And amongst the screaming I have always understood that those that are kind are the ones that come into the room and speak to all sides equally.
Somewhere in that mix is my love of animals. I don’t want to spend a year helping animals so much as I must because I can’t bear the outrage.
But how does it all fit together?
Now my thoughts are becoming clearer. The divide in myself, the divide between people (myself and others, others and others) and the divide that humans have from animals, they are one and the same. Healing one, heals the other. This wound is all of our wounds.
The danger is that these things sound so trite when written down. We hurt another and we hurt ourselves. Yeh yeh yeh. Eat a steak and you might as well eat your own face…errrr….
But this is NOT an intellectual exercise.
The oddest thing about this year journey is discovering that the simplest concepts – kindness, connectedness, death, cruelty – can not be understood in our heads alone but only with our bodies also, our action. Experience is the best guide. Picking up the animals that suffer, experiencing the suffering first hand, responding with action and then absorbing this experience – this is necessary. That is why short phrases like ‘only connect’ (EM Forster) can be so easy to understand on one level and so hard to …. put into action.
A buddhist once explained the idea of compassion to me in very simple terms. We don’t hit our right hand with our left hand. If we hold a piece of fruit in our right hand our left hand does not try and steal it. Our left hand does not feel jealous of our right if it touches something warm and squidgy. This is not because our hands are kind to each other or have christian beliefs or were bought up by good daddy and mummy hands. This is because they are connected through our being. In one sense, there is nothing particularly moral or kind about compassion, it is the only thing to do when the connection between two apparently disparate entities is laid bare.
We have become separated. From ourselves, from others and from animals. We see the hands but not the arms. One hand is hurting the other.
Only ‘connect’ …. ‘Only connect’…if that is all you do in life, only connect.