We don’t need others to fail or struggle or get hurt to feel good about ourselves.
Anne Lamott “fesses up” how she feels about others and her own need for mercy, How someone getting hurt can make her feel better but not for long. Mercy is a daily requirement for the human condition:
“So why today is it absolutely all I can do to extend mercy to myself for wanting to nip an annoying relative’s heel like a river rat? Forget extending mercy to this relative, who has so messed with me and my son – she doesn’t even know she needs my mercy. She thinks she is fierce and superior, while I believe she secretly ate her first child. Horribly, she is perfectly fine. I’m the one who needs mercy – my mercy. The need for this, for my own motley mercy, underpinned most of my lifelong agitation, my separation from life itself. […] I came here with a huge open heart, like a big, sweet dog, and I still have one. But some days the only thing that can cheer me up is something bad happening to someone I hate, preferably if it went viral and the photo of the person showed hair loss and perhaps the lifelong underuse of sunscreen. My heart still leaps to see this. I often recall the New Yorker cartoon of one dog saying to the other: “It’s not enough that we succeed. Cats must also fail.” This is the human condition.”*
Our lives, though, are bigger than we know. Big enough to be bigger with others – big enough to be bigger with ourselves. We only need to see it. Erich Fromm writes:
‘The fact is that most of us are half asleep while we believe ourselves to be awake.’**
We’re already in the flow of something that does not require another to fail so we feel better about ourselves. Rather the success of another adds to our understanding of what we might call an infinite dance – after the infinite game which aims to include as many as possible for as long as possible and when the rules threaten to exclude from or to end the game, the rules are changed. Such a dance and such a game would be full of mercy.
‘The fool views himself as more unique and others more generic; the wise views himself as more generic and others more unique.’^
We haven’t explored this for long enough with enough people yet to know just how our lives, and the lives of others and our communities might be changed.
It’s possible to dance alone, two begin to change the danc , three changes the dance for ever, making it possible for the fourth and fifth and more to join in.
It could change everything.
(*Anne Lamott, quoted in Maria Popova’s BrainPickings.)
(**From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Listening.)
(^From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)