Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear:
I founded and fund a program… called Patient Pets, which allows patients to care for small animals. Many of these men wil be locked up for life without visitors, and a mouse or bird might be all they have….
I recall the way the patients reacted to the death of a particular guinea pig…. When they noticed the old animal was sick, they wanted to find a way to keep her from dying, though most knew that wasn’t possible….
One patient, Oliver, made it his job to be sure the ailing animal had everything she needed. Oliver asked to keep her in his room “so she won’t be alone at night, just in case she decides to die then.” […]
There was not a dry eye in the ward as the patients said their goodbyes and silently left the office.
While my gallows humour makes me think that actual psycho killers might eat a bird, mouse, or guinea pig, and while we read over and over again that adult males who are cruel to people were cruel to animals as boys, it is straightforward to believe that homicidal maniacs would extend compassion to small creatures. Because we can and they are us.
George Saunders, “My Writing Education: A Timeline”:
On a visit to Syracuse, I hear Toby saying goodbye to one of his sons. “Goodbye, dear,” he says.
I never forget this powerful man calling his son “dear.”
All kinds of windows fly open in my mind. It is powerful to call your son “dear,” it is powerful to feel that the world is dear, it is powerful to always strive to see everything as dear. Toby is a powerful man: In his physicality, in his experiences, in his charisma. But all that power has culminated in gentleness. It is as if that is the point of power: To allow one to access the higher registers of gentleness.
Saunders’ is a rags-to-esteem tale, and if you have read him, you know he richly deserves all he has been given. Saunders is the only author about whom one can read he was awarded the MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships in the same year and think “About time.”
I wrote him fan mail. He made my day by writing back that I had made his night. (Never think you cannot help someone, even someone who doesn’t seem to need help.) We went back and forth on what I would call his journey toward kindness. His path is almost at odds with mine and seems completely wrong and off-topic, but that means nothing because the destination is the same.
I like men and manly things, up to and positively excluding hunting and fishing. I decided this year I just fucking hate carnivores and am tired of keeping my mouth shut about that. I have always loathed hunters, and I tell them that unbidden and with satisfaction. Some of my best Facebook friends are bobsledders, who, at an average of 6′3″/220, are a good working minimum size. Half of them are Mormons, fundamentalist Christians, soldiers, Republicans, and/or hunters.
You shouldn’t act surprised (I do not) when the biggest, strongest, most physically capable men you meet are right-wing assholes. They are fulfilling their evolutionary role. But they aren’t the future.
The man who embodies strength, courage, mastery, and honour – “embodies” is the operative term – rejects a fundament of the human species, namely ethics, if he heedlessly tumbles down the evolutionary hillside. Just as black belts pride themselves on never ever getting into a fight, the biggest strongest men have an imperative to be the kindest. I am not going to knock a man who makes any effort in that direction, but when nonviolent push comes to nonviolent shove, no, you can’t eat meat, you can’t beat people up, and you cannot harm animals. That rules out half of the initiation rites of the Wolves of Vinland, but they would be the first to admit they’re living in the past.
Men are supposed to be bigger and stronger; we’re the ones who are violent. The latter is a choice you can reject. The entire point of being a big strong man is to use your force solely for good. Act like a Jain, not a barbarian.
No one minds when I stick up for disabled people. But because I stick up for gay men and lesbians and for Western civilization and for myself, guinea pigs on Twitter, some of them local hacks, regard me with open hatred. As such they violate the foregoing precepts, but ethics are unknown to them. I am considered too tart and sarcastic by every institution I tangle with, up to and including institutions that paid me to do work for them. Every field in which I am an expert, including one in which I am the last expert standing, has carried out a dazzling omertà against me. There are airtight blacklists preventing me from working in all my fields. Because of my attitude and tendency to disagree and be right about it, according to these guinea pigs I deserve the ostracism and estrangement meted out to me.
I do not. As I have written here, you (however defined) believe the pain and torment I’ve been put through are the least I deserve. It’s the least punishment that daring to disagree and be right would naturally warrant. It’s the least I deserve. My tone (everything is about “tone”) warrants nothing less. You have no idea what you’ve done.
Meanwhile, I have envisaged a purgatorial afterlife, with the same feel as the final scenes of The Rapture but a geography more like the desert roads of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, in which I walk my own path, as do others I know on their own parallel roads off to the side. Not unlike Nature morte au crâne de bœuf, you drag right behind you, as if a driftnet were stuck to your back, an ossuary of bones as wide as the road and twice your height. That’s every creature you injured, hurt, or killed and it is your burden. I left my pile of bones miles back and I walk clear.
Now turn around and look behind you.
I have been told I deserve “a full life that isn’t just about fighting for things.” I don’t have anything resembling that, and, while I am not suicidal, I do feel I am at the end of my rope. I worry what my epitaph will say. But I know I have done one, possibly only one, good thing with my life. My values are all I have.