I’ve dealt with bullshit in my life. Mine and other peoples’. People’s? Whatever. Brief and overarching examples of such bullshit include trauma, abuse, terror, panic, lies, anger, cruelty, judgment, scorn, intolerance, narcissism, pettiness, and poorly-cooked pizza.
When your bullshit intake is pretty steady on a daily level (read; when you are an adult and/or college student), you become introspective. You tend to walk around a lot listening to ‘Dust In The Wind’ and staring off into space. You experiment with dangerous things to deal with the bullshit—dangerous things like anger, hate, and condemnation. Possibly also alcohol and chocolate. If you’re an artist, you art even more than usual—perhaps you start a novel, or compose music, or both. You apply yourself vigorously to your work, because work usually doesn’t contain any bullshit.
You feel old. Older. Ancient, old as the hills, as if you’ve walked the same streets forever.
And, if you’re me, this introspection takes a reflective turn. You turn to books, to film, to famous figures, for inspiration, comfort, and guidance. You talk to parents and professors and listen to words from men and women long dead. You read Aristotle’s friendly books of advice for young men entering adulthood. You listen to Jung’s discussion of mortality and the human life, watch the keen intelligence in the eyes of Bertrand Russell as he discusses forgiveness and mankind’s future on Earth. You learn the unpredictability of life not only from your own travails but from the calming voice of Alan Watts, who assures you that all is not as bad as it seems—that the universe has a harmony of its own.
You drop-forge your own spirituality in fire and cold water, in anger and sorrow and hour after hour of worry.
And slowly, it works.
You stop staring at the ceiling for hours every night. Your dreams cease to be saddening and become bittersweet.
Your music stops being angry. Stops being sad. It sounds more right than before, deeper, with anger and sorrow in their rightful places—not dominating, and not absent. Your characters take on a depth and power that you haven’t known before, and (after hours of exposure to the drama that unfolds in human lives) story developments come easily. You get better at managing your temper, at making measured judgments, at managing stress, at not falling apart under the weight of your own rumination.
Suddenly, though you haven’t gotten any busier, you have plenty of time. You start humming happier songs. You have more patience for everything from schoolwork to nonfunctioning computers to people.
And then, on a quiet afternoon in a nearly-empty study space, you run a search on Martin Luther King Jr., and you read his words. You get a glimpse of the man behind the rhetoric, and you see the power in them. It falls into place all at once; Taoism, Nietzsche, psychology black swans, action with intention, cultural relativism, even the Wizard’s oath…and the result is a profound calm, and a renewed vehemence.
I refuse to believe in the worst parts of humanity. People can be better, though there might not be any one person or thing that changes them. It might not be me that causes a person’s life to turn around—but I cannot turn my back on the possibility that it might be. Two quotes by MLK inspired me today. One of them was this:
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
People will be petty, and afraid, and angry—and that includes me, because I can be petty, and nervous, and angry too, just as well as anyone else. But you can’t meet human failing with more human failing. You can’t beat intolerance with intolerance. You can meet cruelty with anger, in the moment. You can fight abuse fist-to-fist if you have to. But when it’s done, when the moment ends, then you have to rebuild, and you can’t rebuild with anger.
“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies. ”
As a society, and as individuals, we can’t be lost in the moment of anger. Yes, people do awful things. There should and will be consequences for that. But we have to step back, and think. Yes, the murderer is a monster. But we have to step back, and think, and wonder who made her that way. Yes, rape is evil, and disgusting, and should never be tolerated among our number. But we have to step back, and think, and realize that we have a chance to help a victim before he is a victim. That we have a chance to save the innocent, before they become the guilty. And that while we can fight day by day, in the end, it will be not the many battles but the one, the only, that changes the course of humanity—and that is the battle of our culture, of our time, of our universe, and our lives. And in the end, it is the fight of inclusion over intolerance. It is the fight of self-knowledge over self-denial. It is the fight of integration over repression. It is the yes of life against the no of time and entropy. And in the end, it is the fight of love over hate.
So I refuse to believe that people cannot change. People can be better than this. The world can be better than this. Life can be better than this. And I will fight every day, through spoken and written words, through actions and thoughts, to make it so. Because that is the only fight worth fighting.
Because in the end, that’s the only fight. There is no good and evil beyond what we make, beyond what we choose, beyond what we do.
We are Nietzsche’s supermen. The world is what we make of it, and I, for one, want to make it something better than this. Because we can be better than this.
The world is full of bad things. But we can make it a little better. We can always be a little better. Because deontology is not starry-eyed idealism. A perfect end is not impractical. Am I an angel? No, not by any means, what I am is something darker. Does that mean I can’t hold myself to that standard? Not in the slightest. Will we ever achieve a perfect world? A world without murder, fear, rape, hatred? Maybe not. Does that mean I can’t fight for it?
And besides, I’ve a fondness for impossible causes.
So if I seem unexpectedly nice…I’m just doing my job. If I call you on hateful rhetoric, I’m just doing my job. And trying to help you do yours.
Because, after all, the basic idea of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics can be condensed into this:
Be the best human being you can be.
That’s my response to your bullshit, life.
Your move, motherf*****.