Empathy over Courage

Bravery is a rare commodity. Many people who think they’re being brave only dare to do so from within a like-minded group, however small in number, and when they are genuinely in the minority spend more energy on protesting that the majority from which they’re excluded is unfair and unjust than on doing anything useful to change it. It may be true—knowing human nature, often probably is true—that one’s opposition is no exemplar of justice and fair-mindedness. But we’re seldom willing or able, ourselves, to make a cleanly balanced assessment and especially, to act wisely and compassionately on it either. We’re generally convinced that anyone else having anything good means less goodness for ourselves, and that that is a terrible thing.

What impresses me more than bravery, real or imagined, is seeing anyone express real empathy for others through their own beliefs, lives, and actions. I tend to doubt that we’re capable of doing or even wanting very lofty things, but I also think that small doses of empathy will go ever so much further than any amount of derring-do and action-figure heroics in bettering the world and the human condition within it. Daring to let another person be richer or more privileged than me or to have the last word, even when I’m fairly sure I’m smarter, closer to correct, or more deserving requires quite a different sort of courage than running into danger in anyone’s defense or their stead.

But treating others with such respect seems to me far more likely than argument and defensiveness, self-protection and fear, to get anyone to trust and respect me in turn. So shines a good deed. The unselfish willingness to accept another person’s reality as valid even when it might cost me something significant is a kind of courage I dream of having, hope to learn.Graphite drawing: Reach Down to Raise Up

Pessimism is Its Own Reward

—or recompense, at least!Digital illustration from photos: Gloom = Doom

Pessimism is Its Own Reward

My Opinion, and Welcome to It

Digital illustration: Tweeting in the Twentieth Century

Here’s a little something I’d Tweet if I had an actual Twitter account, because I’m quite sure the whole rest of the world *really* needs to know it.

Just My Opinion

While I pontificate and muse

On any topic I should choose,

You can’t be blamed for heading east

When I head west or, in the least,

For covering your weary ears—

Like any sentient who hears

Such foolishness as what I spout—

But don’t talk, too; I’ll just tune out.

Lesser Lights

digital illustration

The major stars are always more visible than those around them. It’s demonstrably true not only in the galaxies but in the more modest constellations of humanity. Our attentions are naturally drawn toward those who shine most impressively and dramatically—for good or ill; those more modestly gifted or less showy mostly find their own lights muddled or even eclipsed by the intensity nearby, and as a result we seldom spot and take note of them.

Even those of us who are not only accustomed to, but also aware of, being humbled and diminished by comparison to others’ flashier character can easily forget how this applies to others. Just because I might feel neglected doesn’t necessarily mean I notice others being equally shortchanged; indeed, it’s more likely that if I’m feeling under-appreciated I get too preoccupied with my longing to be Special and resentful navel-gazing to think that I’m probably in the majority rather than otherwise.

Still, there’s hope. Just as a supernova will someday burn to nothingness, human stars tend mostly to flash into the general notice, burn however brightly for however long, and be dimmed by eventual inattention or death. They, too, will eventually be outshone and/or replaced by other stars whose time has come.

And if I, or any other, should in the meantime feel unreasonably hidden from sight, we are still free to seek our own bit of gleam. For some folk, that seeking comes in ambitions for accomplishment and fame. For the rest of us, the surest way to kindle the blazing fire that gives off sufficient heat and light to be noted by anyone else is to turn our focus outward. Devoting energy, attention and love to causes and works outside of our petty selves, and especially to other persons, is the spark that, when kindled in their spirits, creates the steadiest, most lasting kind of light. Even the smallest and weakest among us shines brightly in this tiny act of selfless will.digital illustration