Caritas


I would like to begin this piece with a question… How to address a topic like unconditional love, without sounding… soft… but, still avoiding addressing people in a cold, academic fashion? A challenge indeed, but one which pales in comparison with the subject.


I might wander around a bit, so do bear with me as I work through these things myself…



Today, the word ‘charity’ is a word we encounter all the time. We walk along the high street and we see homeless people sleeping in the entrances to shops. We enter or pass by charity shops selling second-hand clothes and items. People approach us on the street and ask us, honestly or under the guise of ‘sponsorship’, or somesuch, to give them some of our money. Companies that have acquired our data call us, email us, post adverts on YouTube, etc…showing pictures of starving, half-naked children, huge eyes crying streams of tears.


There are so very many more… You have seen them, you know them, you have encountered them, you have surrendered to them or defied them…


You may give a few pounds to a fellow on the street, you might shop in charity shops, not through necessity, but because you want to, but more likely you will take some of your better-quality items and donate them, especially if you have suffered a loss in the family. You might sponsor an eight-year-old German Shepard in Brunswick, called Phillip, you might even have a standing order sending £10 a week overseas to help those crying children. Perhaps you have your friends sponsor you once a year as you run for cancer, or heart disease. Perhaps you don’t do anything.


Mark Twain, in What is Man, argues altruism, pure altruism, is impossible, as with every good deed there is either a reward, or the avoidance of punishment – I’m walking along the street with my girl or boy, he or she is shivering in the cold, I wrap my coat around them – Ooo, but I know that warmth might be repaid with interest a little later in the evening (nod, nod, wink wink), or, I shan’t have to wander the street, snug in my coat, but wretched as I dwell on how my own warmth is more important than theirs.


There are varying degrees here – it is so very easy to get locked into right and wrong, into good and bad, but for those of us who have experienced a little, who have, perhaps, had a little help in understanding, who have encountered impossible situations, where there just isn’t an easy box to throw the decision. Offering that person you care about your coat might be easy, what about offering someone you don’t know very well, what about a stranger, and what about thinking you might never get your coat back – these are… what… steps of separation; let’s think of them like that. Offering a coat on a chilly night might be easy, but what about in a storm, in the snow, what about in a place where the cold will last much longer (let’s go with Finland in February), and what about if without the coat the conditions are so extreme, you will die – these are… what… steps of severity (they can then, of course, be combined – giving your coat to a stranger in conditions that without a coat you will die).


Just to make matters even worse… let’s go back to that Twainian reward – perhaps a coat is worth a little nookie… perhaps the snowstorm might win us a month of pampering, a PlayStation for our birthday (no hints, you know who I’m talking to…), perhaps even the catalyst creating a reaction sealing two elements together for the rest of their lives…


Whether these considerations are occurring unconsciously; that passionate part of our mind (fully in charge according to David Hume), dictating our actions before we have a chance to dwell too much on consequence, or whether like some Machiavellian creature, you are calculating these rewards and punishments, factoring them into your actions, using them in a shrewd fashion, isn’t really important… Some might suggest they are simply the separation of a more thoughtful human vs someone who acts more on impulse, or another way to describe it might be a clever person vs a stupid one, but most of us realise ‘cleverness’ isn’t a state of being, it’s just a particular set of experiences at a particular set of circumstances within a specific time.


There’s even more… I was born on a Monday and so raised a single child, my father had a very good job and worked a lot, my mother never worked and doted on me; I was always her treasure. I was conditioned from my earliest moments to think of myself as the most important thing in all creation – will I give away that coat, even for someone I love deeply, if I know it will be the end of me…? I was born on a Tuesday, and raised as the third of five children. My mother and father struggled to feed and cloth us, we watched as others always had more… they had better clothes, a bike, were bought a car on their seventeenth birthday, their father helped them get a job, helped pay for their first home, while I struggled to hold down a job… what do I think of myself…? Perhaps on the surface I’m bitter, but down beneath, swirling in that mass of conflicts we call our unconscious self? In that bitter snowstorm, with the one person who I love, for all my inadequacies, freezing to death, do I not willingly sacrifice my life for theirs and die happy[ish]?


Am I suggesting suffering makes you a better person…?


Indeed I am… but not really in the way I just described above – both are still living that Twainian template, simply following through their conditioning to the ultimate end – those Freudian, Pain and Pleasure Principles simplifying our actions to a few words and a simple understanding. My understanding of encountering suffering and joy in others is related to empathy, and empathy can only come from experience. Simply put – if I have never been really hungry, I can never feel sorry for someone who is really hungry, and if I have never really rejoiced, I can never celebrate when I see someone else rejoice.


So, how do we come to an understanding of the eight billion human conditions changing with every moment of experience? OK, stupid question, but made for a point – we cannot, and I’m not suggesting you starve for a week, have a baby and watch it murdered because you follow a different faith, live under constant surveillance afraid to speak your own mind, live from birth under circumstances that condition you into a certain belief, and on and on and on… BUT we can apply a little of what it means to be human… we can use our imagination.


I doubt there are very many of us who have not… suffered, or rejoiced… in some ways, and these can be… exaggerated, transformed, blended, into something that, to us, may feel something like they feel.

A fellow called Ekman, in 1992, suggested there are six basic emotions: sadness, fear, disgust, anger, surprise and happiness. There are different thoughts as to why we have more negative ones than positive ones, but one thought is we tend to ruminate more on negative moments – we think when we are sad, we regret, we wonder what we could have done differently, but when we are happy we do not disturb the moment, we just live it… I think that, and most of the others, are just twaddle… I think, because we are sad more than we are happy we’ve given rotten things more names (this is using the example above, but only on so much as our rumination leads us to more description). I think that for the majority of human existence we have suffered. We were hungry and cold, we watched those close to us die, we were made to work, we were punished for not obeying others, we were enslaved, we were treated with hate and disgust, pain and torture, for being different, and we still are… For the privileged not getting what we deserve is suffering, and for the rest… the vast majority… life mostly just sucks (unfortunately, most of the people who could ever read this are those exact privileged – and even privilege is a matter of perspective – the man protesting on the streets that he’s too poor, that his skin colour or his sexual orientation are creating hate, that his daughter has had to wait for a hospital appointment when the rich can just go and see the very best specialists on a day of their choosing… well, he doesn’t realise that only a few thousand miles away he would have been locked up, fined, and perhaps even ‘re-conditioned’ or murdered for even daring to voice his anger).

While we’re wandering around interesting concepts, I’m not sure we’re getting to any particular point, and perhaps we won’t perhaps the very nature of this piece is just to have a little think…

Have you ever watched a TV show or movie and cried?

Depending on your world – authoritarian, brutal, liberal, understanding, compassionate, desperate… depending on your upbringing – generous, caring, abusive, violent, hungry, scared, confident, indulgent… depending on your current circumstances – luxurious, poverty-stricken, painful, numb… well, you get the idea, you may or may not have experienced this phenomenon (shit, you may not even have a TV), but I think the majority of people who might read this (and therein lies the absolute tragedy – if you are already reading this you already likely have some idea of love, not love for you partner, husband or wife, but extended love, a feeling of sympathy bred through an understanding of suffering – compassion, whether you act on it or not is for you, but you likely have some understanding…), will be able to relate…

Think of an example… For me, especially when I was younger, it was heroic self-sacrifice; maybe I read too many books with noble heroes as a youth. A real example to get your teeth into – Saving Private Ryan, after the director has used a lot of time to build up characters (I think why the film has to be so necessarily long), and then, for the sake of a loving mother, for the sake of their brothers, and for the sake of redeeming themselves (whether religiously, spiritually, or in the case of the leading ‘teacher’, perhaps even intellectually), they lay down their lives, the lives of many, for the sake of the one (a delicious contradiction to the Utilitarian social belief that the good of the many is more important than the good of the one – more memorably utilised in a Star Trek movie – and if you remember it, you’re getting pretty old…). I would, and still do, wipe at tears smearing my eyes, and savour that heady emotion (I’ve never taken bullets in an impossible fight, watching my best friends die for a complete stranger – how could I empathise with such a moment…but my conditioning has taught me the value of life, and thus to sacrifice it for a cause, a noble cause, is an act worthy of meaning and feeling), that comes with… feeling.

However, as I grow older, I find myself tearing up, or at least reacting emotively, at more and more examples… now, those base emotions we spoke of earlier: sadness, fear, disgust, anger, surprise and happiness, mostly, if they are conveyed well enough by good actors at the competent hands of a talented director, with enough money to shoot great shots (hmmm, the television of today has absorbed so much… psychology… they have us hanging by their threads, and they do like to twitch those strings), can be awoken… The loss of a loved one, a soul in absolute terror, the horror of what humanity is capable of, rage at injustice and intended pain, shock at the twists of fate, and joy at some reunification, at some noble victory…

I have become more experienced, I have suffered more, I realise the rare and unique nature of happiness and the more pervading horror that stalks the Earth, and, like any enlightened privileged fellow I can now wallow in my emotional responses, because to feel… surely is better than to not.

With feeling, with empathy, comes [an often unrequited] belonging… not just with the one at my side, my family, perhaps even my neighbourhood, my nation, my culture, but with humanity, and when you see humanity as your family, each stranger as the distant uncle or aunt your mother talks about before the emigrated to Australia or Canada, then compassion, caritas, or universal, unconditional love, becomes a state of being (at present a highly dangerous one as so few others share it)…

I’m not blind or foolish – we need our sheepdogs (a term I heard and enjoyed recently referring to our own, trained and obedient wolves), to keep the wolves from the sheep. We need our sociopaths with guns and tasers, and we should treasure them all the more for the sacrifice of their caritas for the good of the herd, because our privilege blinds the sheep to the avarice, to the hate, to the ignorance (usually engineered at the hands of the insecure leaders – a matter for another paper), of those who still worry more about food, warmth and shelter, than what they will do at the weekend – that directed rage, directed by those leaders we just mentioned, because without those leaders… those authorities – after twenty years of living in many of these countries – I truly believe – we’re all just folks…

I think I shall stop now. There are many topics I haven’t covered, and things touched that need further exploration, but perhaps there are a few things here worthy consideration.


Individuality may ofttimes be selfish, may be inconsiderate, but it’s the only way to find your own answers…


Authority is a double edge temptation…

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