In our finite world scarcity and competition for limited resources are facts of nature, taken for granted. We are hard-pressed to see the world we live in except in terms of winning and losing. Most drama in our world centers on the burning question of who will take the lion’s share and be safe in their home and property and who will starve or die young of preventable diseases or violence. Most live anxiously in between, taking distraction and pleasure where they can, and there are people who will kill you for the money in your pocket.
Other things in this world are infinite and as precious as clean water. Empathy is infinite, if allowed to flourish, and it saves lives. The gift of being listened to, heard and understood, having someone take the time to understand — a sadly rare gift that costs nothing to give and is potentially infinite. Imagine the pain and violence that could be spared, if a person on the edge of rage had only had someone to hear how much they were suffering and ready to give even a small comfort.
I heard a great radio interview a few weeks ago with a woman who worked in an office in a school. A distraught maniac came into the school with an AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammo, ready to kill and then, as the maddening saying goes, “turn the gun on himself” or commit “suicide by police”. She was the first person he encountered there, and she was in the midst of a day of great personal trouble already when he walked in. She saw his agony and spoke to him kindly, told him he was loved, called him sweetie, assured him that his life was going to be better than it felt in this terrible moment. She wound up calming him enough that he didn’t shoot anybody, didn’t turn the gun on himself.
Many gun-toting maniacs who barge into schools are far past the point of hearing anything, the kindest words in the world will be cut off by their gun shots. But her actions that day saved many lives, including her own. They don’t make a movie about her, but she’s a greater hero than most that movies are written about. Antoinette Tuff is this hero’s name. In looking her up just now I read that a few days ago they sentenced the 21 year-old with the AK-47, who shot at police before Tuff talked him down. Looking at the photo of the beautiful Ms. Tuff, and reading about her hard life before her heroic moment, they might very well make a movie about her. She has a book out now and is doing the interview circuit.
Also infinite, the violence rage produces. It is as inevitable as the “fuck you” many in a hurry, or dealing with their own troubles with no time left, might feel reading something like this on some fool’s blahg. Abstract bullshit with rose colored shades on, where is the actual content? Oh, wait: it’s better to be amazingly kind than to be a common fucking bastard, eh? Deep.
Our minds create the world we live in, it is said. The organ of mass media plays upon our senses, all the time, selling without rest, pulsating in our pockets, on a billion screens, it’s echoed by the crickets chirping in the darkness. All of human genius is focused on perfecting this ever more incredibly sophisticated sales machine. We cannot see our world without seeing the inevitable — war, competition, violence, hatred, revenge, infuriating piety. Infuriating piety is as bad as the rest of the plagues, it’s maddening to listen to someone piously announce the difficult truth, presented with a pious idiot’s simple mindedness, leaving no room for discussion. The certainty of pious people can be maddening, that’s understood.
Picture two kids and their prospects for a happy life and I’ll duck back behind the curtain. One child, when she wakes afraid in the dark, has an adult who comes, puts a soft hand out, speaks quietly, listens and reassures. The other child wakes afraid in the dark and is met by an angry adult who waits for the child’s wailing to get out of control and then barges in snarling “you’d better shut up or I’ll give you something to really cry about!”
That this goes as well for adults as for children is too self-evident to even try to show. It is even more important for children, clearly, and for the future of life here.