Thursday, June 26, 2008

If I were to name one fault that I undoubtedly possess and wholeheartedly hate, it would be meanness, specifically that sort of meanness which takes the form of a nasty if cleverly-phrased joke at another's expense. Some people weep away their troubles, some people drive them off with anger, and others forget them in music. My tendency is to laugh at my troubles, and unfortunately my tendency is also to laugh at the people who are causing them.

I'm not talking about good-natured joking and teasing. I'm talking about those times when your mind suddenly flares up passionately and supplies your tongue with a witty remark calculated to sting. It makes you appear extraordinarily clever, and your opponent appear extraordinarily small. It makes all your friends laugh and clap you on the back while pitying the poor fool who was the subject of your attack... the poor fool, who, I might add, is rarely actually present, because this meanness is very cowardly at the same time.

This one particular fault, this lack of charity, is something I'm very intolerant of in other people, and I'm also very intolerant of it in myself. I don't know whether the intolerance of it in others came first, and so I realize that I have to hate in myself or be a hypocrite, or if I hated it in myself first and being young and idealistic insist on others living up to my standards. Either way, I can't stand it.

I don't like arrogance, stupidity, selfishness, and a multitude of other vices, but I can tolerate them. Not in myself, perhaps, but I'll put up with them in others. But lack of charity? It's been said that charity is the foundation of all other virtues, and I think that perhaps it's equally true that lack of charity is the foundation of all other vices. In a cruel comment constructed to hurt and pain another person, arrogance, stupidity, selfishness, and the multitude of other vices are all present.

Chesterton was also very intolerant of uncharitableness. However he didn't practice it regardless, the way I do. A sweeter, kinder, more compassionate man there never was. Definitely he loved to tease his friends, and to fake malice in good fun, but he was never mean.

I was pondering on why Chesterton so passionately hated this meanness in speech. And I think it's because it's a crime against what he held most precious: life.

For the same reason, I think, the Church despises these sins of speech. Reading the section on calumny, slander, detraction, and so forth in the Catechism, I was struck by how strongly-worded it was.

What do the mass murderers and abortionists have in common with the mean-tongued such as myself? We both display a disturbing lack of respect for the dignity of human beings, created in the image and likeness of God. These barbed jokes are not amusing; they are the first step on the road to destroying another man's body and one's own soul.

Didn't Father Brown once say something such as that grave sin was so horrifying and dreadful to him not so much because others had committed them, but because he knew how capable he was of committing them himself?

I agree with him entirely. When I look at those mass murderers and abortionists, and the horror of their sins, my abhorrence lies not in the fact that they did them so much as in my knowledge that I could do them. And I know that I'm capable of it, because I have committed all those dreadful sins in their lesser forms.

1 comment:

lissla lissar said...

What's the quote about the line between good and evil running through every human heart?

For a murderer will be subject to judgement, but one who says, "You fool!" is in danger of the fires of Hell. That strikes fear into my heart, because those sins- detraction, calumny, gossip- are the ones to which I'm most inclined, and the easiest to think unimportant.