I Think, Therefore I Love You

Philosophies try to explain the purposes of — well, the purposes of everything.  Philosophies can become a hobby, a lifestyle, or an obsession if one lets them.

Many of us have little use for most philosophies, though.  We find some incompatible, others obsolete.  Existentialism for instance, although great for egocentric neo-hippies, neither nurtures nor allows faith in the common man, so society rejects it.  Zen Buddhism, likewise, does not make sense to materialistic cultures, because the contemplation of nothingness seems just as absurd to most Los Angeles businessmen as the rabid pursuit of wealth does to most Chinese peasants.  A philosophy must operate within its intended context; otherwise, it’s a painter’s hammer, a baker’s wrench, a butcher’s telescope.

We read philosophies to explore the frontiers of human understanding, but few of them can really pertain to everyone.  One such panharmonic philosophy exists, though.  It’s a beautiful thing, clear, concise, and without the usual pompousness that garnishes most mystic proverbs.  It goes like this:

Be nice.

"Be nice," says Dalton

I.

“Be nice” is a highly volatile, extremely dangerous, violently controversial philosophy.  People have been killed for being too nice.  The Way of Nice has martyrs in every part of the world.

That superstar of martyrs who inspired a global sensation, the man who needs no introduction, Mr. Jesus, purportedly believed in being nice.  Extant records say he was a swell guy, except for one small incident when he started chucking tables around because some gamblers had mistaken a church for a casino.   Other than that, he made his career as a philosopher with, “Be nice” (except he actually said, “Love one another.”  It may be presumed that in the time of slavery, flayings, and crucifixions, this sounded less mushy).  Incidentally, Mr. Jesus called himself — not a son of the gods — but the son of the God (big G) and this tended to frustrate people.

The teachings of Mr. Jesus can easily be wired in such a way as to not short-circuit when applied to a logical mind, but many agnostics throw his ideas out with the holy water, quoting other Hebrews just as though Mr. Jesus should be responsible for every Jewish mystic from the necromancer Ezekiel to the reformed torturer Paul.  The philosophy of Mr. Jesus does not need to get complicated.  Perhaps most American Christians don’t read their Bible for the same reason most morally minded skeptics don’t: it doesn’t take eighteen-hundred and eighty-eight pages to say, “Be nice.”

Another school of the philosophy of Nice called Taoism preaches inaction (more on Taoism in “A Hurried History of Pagans and Pulpits,” here).  Tao teaches that one should do nothing (wu-wei) but even Lao Tzu, author of the Taoist holy book, finds himself advocating kind actions when he says, “Kindness in words creates confidence.  Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.  Kindness in giving creates love.”

Taoists look venerable as hell, but beneath that austere Pat Morita facade they’re just big ol’ squishybears like other nice people.  The West and East may not have Zen in common, but they do share the philosophy of the Way of Nice.

They say Lao Tzu lived to be six-hundred years old. Wu-wei, indeed. Do nothing, or break hip.

Marcus Aurelius championed the Way of Nice, too, when he wrote in his Meditations, “Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast, and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall live.”  Another Stoic philosopher, Seneca, said, “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.”  From the Dialogues of Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  Cicero: “There is no duty more obligatory than the repayment of kindness.”  Charles Darwin: “The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”  Albert Einstein: “The ideals which have lighted my way have been kindness, beauty, and truth.”

Why on earth do so many brilliant thinkers emphasize the importance of being nice?  These hotshots may have practiced their own forms of morality, but they weren’t known for their morality.  They made names for themselves out of their brains, not their hearts.  Some sound reason must exist for the kind treatment of our fellow beings.

Hold on a moment, though.

Supporting morality with logical premises seems counter-intuitive to many people.  Many people despise the idea that emotions have reasons underlying them.  Western society has accepted the dualistic nature of head versus heart, and for many of us, any attempt to bring reason and emotion, sense and sensibility, contemplation and compassion together is rank blasphemy.

Plenty of people insist that there are matters of the heart which cannot be settled by the brain, often the same good people who keep open minds about things like astrology, tarot cards, and soul mates.  These paladins of mindless warm fuzzies are joined in their bigotry by thousands of doctors of psychology, that mock-science built on neologism which professes to study the mind, but doles out self-help advice as medication.

. . .Well, self-help and benzodiazepines.

These detractors of logic desperately believe that reason and emotion are as oil and water.  A calamitous, deplorable divorce, this, because if there’s anything worse than a chaotic rage, crushing depression, or cataclysmic sorrow, it’s having to deal with these soul-enslaving feelings without the lucidity to counsel and compose oneself, without the presence of mind to talk oneself down, as they say.

"Head vs. Heart," by Danielle Rizzolo

II.

The separation of heart and head is more important to some than the separation of church and state.  Perhaps we have stony-faced Stoics like Aurelius and Seneca to thank for this prejudice.  Colloquially, Stoicism has meant apathy and heartlessness for seventeen centuries.  Sure, we distrust cold and calculating philosophers, yet we have the audacity to explain every pang of fear, justify every twinge of regret, and defend every feeling of personal injury — with logic and reason.

Why are you crying?” asks the doting mother.

Why so sad?” asks the concerned spouse.

Why do you feel this way?” we constantly demand of one another, to which we hilariously reply, “Because. . .!”

We’ve no problem at all demonizing logic and reason as deceitful, dubious, treacherous mishaps of evolution when we wax sentimental — until people take interest in our feelings, that is.  The moment somebody questions our guilt, regret, anxiety or fear, we analyze our feelings like doctors performing an autopsy.  We find ready reasons for each facet of our condition, gladly dissect our heart-of-hearts, and fork out the logic that led us — nay, caused us — to feel such intense feelings.

Certain young thinkers (ahem) have been lambasted by entire university classrooms, wrathful classmates red-faced and spittle-launching, for having dared suggest this heresy.  Why such passionate dissent?

— Because the heaviest weight in the world is the responsibility of self-awareness.  We’d much rather freefall through life like leaves on the wind than assume control.  If we writhe beneath the wild power of our emotions without recourse, we are absolved.  Our follies, our caprices, our sins all manifest as the results of inevitable emotional tides.  Should ever anyone prove emotions to have causal, logical roots, however — then the melodramatic masses will become as culpable as drunk drivers, and many times more shameful.

They were sober, after all.

The purity of an unrestrained emotion -- and this is one of the positive ones. Humans are the only animals which bare their teeth in exuberance.

Emotions retain their validity, though, regardless of their causal relationships in our if-this, then-that universe.  If one feels jovial and carefree because one has paid bills in advance, eaten a nice breakfast, and accomplished every task before noon, one feels no less happy for having enumerated the reasons.

However, some say that we are not truly happy unless we feel glad for no reason at all, happy-go-lucky, willy-nilly, whee!  Unbidden, unexplained emotions seem more pure to these folks.  Understandable emotions with easily surmised causes seem less lustrous, less genuine.  For this reason, our sophomoric culture clings to the love-at-first-sight cliché with the tenacity of a toddler refusing to relinquish a security blanket.

Logic is not the opposite of emotion.  Thinking is not the opposite of feeling, either.  Our feelings exist in our minds, and they correlate to our thoughts.

Now, about the Way of Nice: if compassion has a logical cause, then Aurelius, Seneca, Plato, Cicero, Darwin, Einstein, Mr. Jesus and Lao Tzu merely exercised good sense by practicing kindness.  Many of their reasons for being nice, in fact, are displayed in their quotes, above.  It may be possible for a person to arrive at compassion accidentally, too, and this benefits the world just as well as it would if one could take moral credit for the deed, and maybe better.

One could help an old lady across the street for kindness’s sake, or merely because one couldn’t stand the sight of old-woman roadkill.  A significant difference from the old lady’s perspective seems unlikely, so what difference can it make?

The Good Samaritan, unable to abide roadkill, became the world's first street sweeper.

III.

The reader may lack a reason of his or her own to convert to the Way of Nice, though.  In fact, the reader may be at this very moment shrinking from the thought of practicing any so-called way whatsoever, thinking what a horrid, contemptible thing religion is, and that the Way of Nice smells far too much like religion to be bothered with.

Never fear though, thou valiant heathen.  A philosophy is here offered for the kindly treatment of all animals on the earth.  Therefore, onward!

See, animals are most likely to cause harm when they are in need.  They are also stupid, selfish creatures, too blind to foretell the likely consequences of their actions.  When they need something badly enough, they feel compelled, pushed, forced to act in such a way as to obtain what they think they need.

Should a fellow animal show hunger, one reduces the danger to oneself by feeding him or her.  Should a fellow animal act forlorn, one reduces the danger to oneself by befriending him or her.  Should a fellow animal wince in pain, one reduces the danger to oneself by dressing the animal’s wounds.

Animals naturally seek out a mate in their proper season.  One does well to facilitate this for one’s fellows.  This is fun, anyhow.

Animals yearn for a minimum of tenderness and affection.  One does well to pet them, to soothe them with soft words and caresses.  This feels good, anyhow.

Animals fall into desperation without a safe shelter.  One does well to make one for them.  This can both be fun and feel good.

A cornered animal will most likely attack; it behooves one, therefore, to liberate one’s fellow animals.  Marry logic to kindness so that even the stoniest of Stoics might melt a bit and see the Way of Nice for what it is: the soundest, most obvious philosophy in the world.

Or, to put it more succinctly–

Be Nice.

With earnestness and temporarily subdued sarcasm I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

Stumble It!

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19 Comments

  1. Ah, a voice of learned reason. Note- My interpretation of the gamblers in the temple table-turnover is this: The gamblers (money changers) = capitalist pursuits

    The church (temple)= Our most sacred Earth

    Jesus became angered because it was -and always will be- wrong to turn profits by selling off components of our life support system. ‘Get the money out of the temple’ may be translated into, ‘Get your bean-counting ass out of this perfect and beautiful garden.

    Your friend and fan

    joey racano

    • Dear Joey,

      I love that your letter is the most eloquent one I’ve received. It makes me happy, particularly to see that your own writing has flourished so prodigiously.

      That’s a truly awesome analogy, much more fun than the usual, “You’re blasphemous pricks for turning dad’s house into an usurious loan company.” It’s easy to imagine Mr. Jesus as an ecologist and animal rights activist.

      I’ve always wanted a well-executed painting of The Pissed-Off Christ. My favorite Mr. Jesus painting is “The Laughing Christ,” by some random Midwest grandmother in the 1960s (you know the one?) because I like thinking about Mr. Jesus laughing his ass off at some goofy thing Peter did, or John or Judas. There isn’t any Pissed-Off Christ painting, though. I’d have his handsome head of hair flying all around with his face contorted with rage, his teeth gnashing, a Hebrew or two cowering in the corner, furniture all busted-up in the middle of the stone floor.

      That’d be a great painting.

      Anyhow, always a pleasure to hear from you, Sir. You rokk with two k’s.

      Yours Truly,

      -Both

  2. Wu wei doesn’t simply mean inaction. If a person never acted, then they couldn’t live. The point Lao Tzu was driving at is EFFORTLESS action. It’s the same thing as an artist or athlete that’s “in the zone”. In such instances, we flow with the situation, rather than consciously thinking about each step to be taken.

    • Dear Rambling Taoist,

      I appreciate your apparently deep interest in Eastern philosophy. It seems so few people in America take time to listen to anyone but the punditocracy these days. There’s more to say on this, but allow me to address your clarifying comment, first.

      Would that I but had an echelon of reader-writers such as yourself coming to read “In a Real World. . .”, and then I would not need to worry about anything important being misconstrued. I can count on people who care about the topics I write about to elucidate for my less-active readers any concept which has been delivered askew, or outright incorrectly. I allow myself a great swath of play in order to avoid straining myself, or my poor readers, with comprehensive, stringent and taut explanations of everything I introduce.

      For instance, I speak briefly about gamblers mistaking a church for a casino in the Christian Big Book, but these were actually “money changers” in the Temple (you know, that temple Solomon built around one-thousand B.C., the destruction of which scattered the Hebrews and their Judaism like ashes all over the globe?) and these are rather important distinctions. However, most people easily understand “gamblers in the church,” whereas I am not certain that “moneychangers in the Temple” would ring true to them.

      I temper my diction for the average Joe far too little as it is, you see, so when it comes to an accurate representation of concepts like wu-wei, I choose cohesion over precision — and the lack of a round, untrammeled explanation of ideas like Tao, Zen, or existentialism saddens me. Of all the information in the world people can disseminate, these philosophies and others seem crucial, because they help us understand our pain, and help us lessen the hurt we accidentally do to others.

      I do, of course, place ample links to sources I trust, but as I’m sure you’ve realized, the only people who care to learn about the necromancer Ezekiel are Jews, Catholics, and Christians, and the only readers who click on the link to the Tao-Te Ching are Hindus, Taoists, and Buddhists, with a few neo-hippies thrown in for good measure. That’s why I’m so grateful to scholars like yourself who deign to take a moment and extrapolate on important details.

      On a personal note, I’m especially glad you’ve picked this particular detail, because of all the currently fashionable Eastern mysticisms, I believe Tao is most poorly executed in America, least understood, and least talked about. The most pervasive part of Tao in our culture is that neato swirly symbol that appeared on surfboards and skateboards throughout the nineteen-eighties, and that’s rather pathetic.

      Connected to this problem is that you and I are likely only two of very few persons who will read this short exchange, and so very few will benefit from your magnanimous endeavor here.

      On a positive note, however, your own writing seems quite informative and authoritative, and anyone who thinks that doesn’t mean anything, is a fool.

      Thank you for your heartfelt and earnest explanation of what it means to do things effortlessly, Sir. Thou art a gentleman and scholar.

      Yours Truly,

      -BothEyes

      • Hopefully, more than a few folks WILL read the exchange. If not, then who cares? An exchange between two or three can sometimes speak volumes. :)

    • Lao Tzu was talking about getting rid of the ‘herky-jerky’ motion. There were two related trains of his thought on this- one, was illustrated by his mention of a door or window, what have you, being important, but that it was the hole, that area of nothingness the door created, which allowed one to pass through and therefore made the door useful. Same goes for a bowl, finely crafted though it may be, it is that void inside the bowl which makes a bowl worth having. Likewise, any window.

      The other train of thought was to rid ones self of the extraneous, the superflous. He referred to it all, all these -distractions- collectively as, ‘the ten thousand things’.

      And finally, Lao Tzu did in fact advocate no action. But he meant it as an ultimate goal. Doing the same things with less herky jerky motion, like a good picher in baseball. Doing less and less, until non action is acheived. When non action is acheived, nothing is done, and therefore, nothing is left undone.

      jr

      • I like the points you’ve made here. That said, I still believe Lao Tzu didn’t mean absolutely no action because action (i.e., change) is the way of the universe.

      • Dear Joe,

        You know, I mentioned to the above reader, Rambling Taoist, that it’s really too bad that very likely, the only people who will read these comments are we three knuckleheads, all of whom apparently have much interest in the Tao-Te Ching. It’s too bad that humans naturally specialize in things. It’s regrettable that Taoists and naturalists continually read things about the Tao and nature, whereas some of the most-stressed and least-educated persons will remain delightfully ignorant of such things.

        On the other hand, I’ve not much interest in, say, football strategy, so I suppose I’m a great big hypocrite of sorts.

        Damned humans — we’re all so inexorable.

        Love you, man.

        Yours Truly,

        -Both

  3. Dear RD,

    I agree with you- so let me refine my statement…Lao Tzu must have meant, still get the work/job done, but do it with less activity, simplify, simplify. You are right- action is the way of the Universe! So no action would seem to be against the flow. And like Lao Tzu pointed out, that which is against the flow cannot last. Have you ever read Cold Mountain by Han Shan?

    joey racano http://www.earthsourcemedia.com

    • Dear Joe, and RD as well,

      I remember an anecdote: the Emperor stopped to examine a fish cleaner, because the cleaner moved his knife faster than anyone he’d ever seen and was able to clean a fish in mere moments. Upon the Emperor’s question, the cleaner remarked, “I do not cut the fish; the knife cuts the fish. My hand knows how to clean the fish, so I do not get in its way.”

      I also remember reading somewhere something like: while walking, walk; while eating, eat. These two have guided my thinking for a long time, and I don’t even remember where I read them, anymore.

      Incidentally, I have not read Cold Mountain.

      Cheers to You Both,

      -BothEyes

  4. Few thoughts:

    “Should a fellow animal act forlorn, one reduces the danger to oneself by befriending him or her.”
    All I picture is the multitude of homeless folk that ramble about my neighborhood, and befriending them seems to be about the most danger I could do to myself. With that being said, I still understand your point. I think it behoves one to remember, however, that the Way of Nice isn’t necessarily applicable in EVERY situation. I know people who entirely encompass the Way of Nice as if it were a personality flaw, and they generally end up being taken advantage of. There has to be some additional parameters added to such a philosophy in order to survive the world in which we live…unfortunately.

    I appreciate the clarification about Wu Wei meaning effortlessness. I always had a slight problem with the whole “no action” thing; it seemed contrary to nature for even a corpse is in action, what with decomposition and all.

    Also, all three of you should stop being so negative about no one else reading your thoughts. Granted, humans tend to seek out that which interests them, but there are new humans born everyday, and new interests born within those already here. Besides, negativity requires effort. :P

    • Dear LL,

      To respond directly, as this thread is becoming somewhat verbose, your assertion that one cannot be injudiciously nice to simply everyone echoes my own assertion in the preamble to my December 2009 piece, “How to Refrain from Being a Dick,” in which I explain why it is necessary to judge the behavior of one’s fellow humans (in order to spread the knowledge of the Way of Nice, so-to-speak). So yes, of course I agree with you here. I was, however, advising humanity to treat friends with friendliness, and this is further from your own example, the context of which is obviously much less general.

      Regardless, to say the Way of Nice is not always applicable or possible is the sort of philosophical, religious, and moral argument people have been ideologically debating for thousands of years. One guy says “have charity towards the underprivileged,” and another guy says, “don’t feed him that fish or he’ll never learn to catch them himself.” Yet another proscribes a laissez-faire attitude, in order that the natural manner of social evolution should not be marred, like Star Trek’s “Prime Directive,” a term which has made its way into every modern college sociology textbook. Take your pick.

      Indeed, the Rambler has done his good deed for today on the wu-wei score. Like I wrote to him, if it weren’t for caring detractors, I’d be perpetuating far more silliness than I’d rather. And yes, LL, inaction does not exist. Every so-called thing is in motion. Every noun is a verb. There’s no fire, just the burning.

      As for the negativity concerning unread commentary, well, too many people read this site weekly to imagine no one will see this stuff, really. Besides, you’re very correct about negativity requiring energy. It’s like buying spoiled food with the intent to eat it. Humans do strange things — and then, upon reflecting on them with lamentation, humans do the same things again.

      You’re a straight shooter, LL. I like you being around.

      Yours Truly,

      -BothEyes

  5. […] given to martyrdom may decide to practice the Way of Nice for their respective chiefs, but should one find oneself in the position of the cubicle creature, […]

  6. lols at commenting so extensively on non-action… ;^)

  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Trish Wareing, Darwin Woodka. Darwin Woodka said: "Taoists look venerable as hell, but beneath that …facade they’re just big ol’ squishybears like other nice people." http://bit.ly/awVY40 […]

  8. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Cheers
    Christian, watch south park online

    • Dear Mr. Christian,

      If you’ve been around quite alot of time, then I owe you much gratitude. “In a Real World . . . ” is only a very young body of work, and anyone who’s been reading represents a sort of parent to it.

      Your appreciation is warm, welcome, and received with as much humility as I can muster.

      Thank you for such gentlemanly compliments.

      Yours Truly,

      -BothEyes

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    • Dear Wild Horse, etc,

      Although it amuses me to discover that my exceptional blackjack playing back at my high school prom has reached you, I am somewhat horrified at your email address. “ffanduckvenna?” What is this? There are at least two vulgarities present in your obscene anagram, as well as that blonde who turned letters for Pat Sajak in the 80s. You are a dark and mysterious, nefarious villain, sir! Avast, you blackguard, before I have at thee.

      -B


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