I’ve read a lot of fiction since moving to University Village. Every once in a while, I run into a bit of wisdom that stirs my mind. Usually when I discover such a passage, I blurt out to Sylvia, “Listen to this!” And I read it aloud. She, after all, as a voracious reader, led me to fiction.
The examples I give here are from one author, Louise Penny, and her Inspector Gamache series of books. But I have made other “wisdom discoveries” in books of other authors.
Take this from Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel. “Choice? We choose our thoughts. We chose our perceptions. We choose our attitudes. We may not think so. We may not believe it, but we do. I absolutely know we do. I’ve seen enough evidence, time after time, tragedy after tragedy. Triumph after triumph. It’s about choice. All day, every day. who we talk to, where we sit, what we say, how we say it? And our lives become defined by our choices. It’s as simple and as complex as that. And as powerful. so, when I’m observing that’s what I’m watching for. The choices people make”
I think our lives become defined by our choices. Consider your choice of where to go to school, of your mate, of your career., of where you chose to live. Those choices had a profound effect on my life.
When you are observing, notice the choices that people make, and you will know them better. For example, where do they sit in a restaurant? I always want a seat that has a clear view of the diners, perhaps with my back against a wall. I joke that I do that because there is some Mafia history in my family and I don’t want to get shot in the back.
We might be able to know people by what’s in their grocery cart? What kind of car they drive? What’s going on with those Tesla drivers?
Many of Louise Penny’s books are centered in a small Canadian town near Montreal. In Glass Houses” she wrote “Three Pines is a state of mind. When we choose tolerance over hate. Kindness over cruelty. Goodness over bullying. When we choose to be hopeful, not cynical. Then we live in Three Pines.” In 2020 American there is no such place as Three Pines.
For a guy who thinks perhaps too much and writes every day, here are two bits of Louise Penny’s wisdom that haunts me: “Don’t believe everything you think.” And “I often think we should have tattooed on the back of whatever hand we use to shoot or write, ‘I might be wrong.”
I could go on for pages, but I want to wrap this up with a discussion of the concept of near enemy that I was introduced to from Penny’s book “The Cruelest Month”. So, I went beyond Louise Penny and did some research.
Near enemy is a psychological concept. Two emotions that look the same but are actually opposites. The one parades as the other, is mistaken for the other, but one is healthy and the other is sick, twisted. I’ll discuss the concept as it relates to just one emotion: compassion.
Compassion is recognizing the suffering of others and wishing for them to be free of suffering. In a near enemy version, compassion is not sincere when it is an expression of pity for the other person. Pity looks like compassion, acts like compassion, but is actually the opposite of it. Pity reflects separation rather than unity — “your suffering and misfortune.” In its altruistic version, compassion is a sense of oneness with all others — “your suffering is my suffering.” Compassion involves empathy. You see the stricken person as an equal. Pity doesn’t. If you pity someone you feel superior. So, pity became a near enemy of compassion. And as long as pity’s in place, there’s not room for compassion. It destroys, squeezes out, the nobler emotion.
This alone has given me insight into human behavior and motivation that I didn’t have before. Now maybe I’ll recognize when the compassion I have for others is actually pity. But it’s hard to tell one from the other. Even for the person feeling it. Almost everyone would claim to be full of compassion. It’s one of the noble emotions. But really, it’s pity they feel. Recently a friend of mine told me that his computer got hacked and he was required to give his bank account number to the hacker who then used it to transfer money from his account. I felt “sorry” for him having to go through such an experience. But does “sorry” indicate that I had compassion for him? Or is it pity. Again, it’s hard to tell but it’s probably pity that I feel. Damn!
Far Enemy: This brings up the question: If emotions have near enemies is there such a thing as a far enemy? Yes, cruelty, for example, is a far enemy of compassion. So is mercilessness. Both serve as far enemies of kindness as well. The far enemies are fairly straightforward. In fact, the antonyms of an emotion will contain far enemies of that emotion. But the near enemies are things that look so close to what you’re trying to cultivate, but are actually fundamentally different in a dangerous way. Few of us feel hate which is a far enemy of love. But needy possessive co-dependency can look and feel like love, but actually corrodes it So, I think it is wise to learn the near enemies, because it is so incredibly easy for us to confuse the near enemy for the real thing. Those near enemies feel similar emotionally and rationally, but yet, they’re not the real virtue at all.
Some other emotions or virtues with a near and far enemy for each:
- Hope:Excessive optimism (near); hopelessness/depression (far)
- Wisdom:Intellectualism (n); imprudence (f)
- Kindness:No boundaries (n); mean-spirited (f)
- Acceptance:Passivity (n), resignation (n); denial (f)
- Creativity: Procrastination (n); disconnect from authentic self (f)
- Worthiness:Self-entitlement (n); unworthiness (f)
- Success:Not being able to relax (n); giving up before we start (f)