One thing I wanted to clarify about my “bad boys” post, yesterday; I said that I don’t do things for people because I want to be “nice” — which is true. But I do things for people, all the time, and I find it very satisfying. It’s not that I don’t feel sympathy for people at all; like most people, I feel sympathy and affection for people (and in the case of romantic love, I feel tremendous emotion and passion, see below); but I don’t do things for other people for that reason, for the most part; it doesn’t play a large role in my motivational structure. What motivates me is something else — an aesthetic sense of flow, of what feels right, of trying to reduce waste, of wanting to help create something beautiful and interesting in the world. Helping people, attending to the needs of others (while not, of course, ignoring my own), strikes me as simply the most sensible way to live. So while I am not strongly motivated by any feelings of sympathy I might feel, I am strongly motivated to help others in many situations.
This may sound rather cold; in a way, it is, but as I said before it’s not that I don’t feel things for others; I do, of course, especially people close to me. But the reason I think I act this way is that it’s a kind of impartiality; that is, if someone does something bad to me, so I would have reason to dislike them — that doesn’t mean I will then try to “get back” at them. Unless there’s some reason why I should do something about it (i.e., the person is harming others so I need to intervene in order to stop that, etc.), I tend to simply withdraw my help or support, etc., as I wrote below — but even that isn’t done in anger, it’s simply because I am going to turn towards other parts of the universe (people, etc.) where I think I can be more effective or helpful, where I won’t have to fight against the tide, so to speak. However, even if someone has slighted me or otherwise attacked me, I might still help them if I think that help is necessary or useful at that moment.
In ancient times there was a proscription against samurai killing in anger; if one kills someone (which is a terrible act, of course), you should do it not because of anger, but because you are forced to, in some sense. I think the same applies to my sense of helping others; I don’t do it because I feel sympathy, even if I do, but because I feel it is aesthetically beautiful, it contributes to the world, it makes sense, it fits. And I’d do it even if I don’t like you.
Love is something else, on the other hand — I love with tremendous passion and emotion. Love seems to me to be something different from compassion as I’m defining compassion, above; it’s a domain where feeling and sentiment are very important. Love is not just a matter of aesthetic beauty, it’s very particular, it’s about the unknowable, mysterious Other, someone in your life who is both inseparable from you and yet radically unknowable in their entirety, it’s not comprehensible, it’s not necessarily practical or logical. I don’t really have a theory about love or why it seems to be a place where feeling is both paramount and seems to me to be necessary; but it is somehow different from the case of compassion, for me. So, in a way, I don’t think of love and compassion as the same thing; romantic love is a kind of insanity, but a necessary, wonderful one; compassion is an expression of beauty, of interdependence, of interconnectedness, but for me is less about feeling than about natural expression of existential reality.permalink |