Thursday, February 12, 2009

An Evening of Compassion

image Thursday evenings are the end of my piano studio work week, so after I get done at 7 p.m., I tend to kick back and relax. So these Thursday evening indulgences might just become a weekly habit. What do you think?

There is no doubt in my mind that, had he lived in our day, E.M. Forster would have been a blogger. What strikes me most is how relevant his words are to our contemporary world, and just how compassionate, hopeful, and inspiring his beliefs are--even though he does not believe in belief. Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

"Forster's humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy may be aptly summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End: "Only connect".

He wrote an essay titled “What I Believe.” You can read the entire essay here, but I’ll quote the bits I love best below. Please forgive me: I've snipped a lot.

First, he writes on tolerance, good temper, and sympathy:

I do not believe in Belief. But this is an Age of Faith, and there are so many militant creeds that, in self-defence, one has to formulate a creed of one's own. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by religious and racial persecution, in a world where ignorance rules, and Science, who ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy - they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come to the front before long. But for the moment they are not enough, their action is no stronger than a flower, battered beneath a military jackboot. They want stiffening, even if the process coarsens them. Faith, to my mind, is a stiffening process, a sort of mental starch, which ought to be applied as sparingly as possible. I dislike the stuff. I do not believe in it, for its own sake, at all.

Then he goes on about the "bloody" dangers of faith, something that resonates in our current world:

I have, however, to live in an Age of Faith - the sort of epoch I used to hear praised when I was a boy. It is extremely unpleasant really. It is bloody in every sense of the word. And I have to keep my end up in it. Where do I start ?

With personal relationships. Here is something comparatively solid in a world full of violence and cruelty...

[snip, snip!]

Starting from them, I get a little order into the contemporary chaos. One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life, and it is therefore essential that they should not let one down. They often do. The moral of which is that I must, myself, be as reliable as possible, and this I try to be. But reliability is not a matter of contract - that is the main difference between the world of personal relationships and the world of business relationships. It is a matter for the heart, which signs no documents. In other words, reliability is impossible unless there is a natural warmth. Most men possess this warmth, though they often have bad luck and get chilled.

Then he talks about the use of force. I wish Bush had read these paragraphs before taking office:

What about Force, though? While we are trying to be sensitive and advanced and affectionate and tolerant, an unpleasant question pops up: does not all society rest upon force ? If a government cannot count upon the police and the army, how can it hope to rule ? And if an individual gets knocked on the head or sent to a labour camp, of what significance are his opinions?

This dilemma does not worry me as much as it does some. I realize that all society rests upon force. But all the great creative actions, all the decent human relations, occur during the intervals when force has not managed to come to the front. These intervals are what matter. I want them to be as frequent and as lengthy as possible, and I call them " civilization ". Some people idealize force and pull it into the foreground and worship it, instead of keeping it in the background as long as possible. I think they make a mistake, and I think that their opposites, the mystics, err even more when they declare that force does not exist. I believe that it exists, and that one of our jobs is to prevent it from getting out of its box. It gets out sooner or later, and then it destroys us and all the lovely things which we have made.

And this is just beautiful:

I believe in aristocracy, though - if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke.

I love that: “an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky.” I don’t agree with all that he says—I believe in belief and faith—but I definitely agree with the dangers of belief and faith that he cites, and his message of compassion and understanding.

I think he must have been a wonderful man. I need to read Howard’s End again. Do you know? I’ve never read A Passage to India.

Any thoughts today?

And please don't forget: Zoe Winters is in the last round of the Better Sex Erotic Fiction Contest. The winner gets $3000! Please go vote for A Safer LIFE!

10 bonus scribbles:

Edie 2/13/2009 01:06:00 AM  

I've never read any of his works. I doubt I'd do it, either, but good for you! Tonight I was reading an Amanda Quick book and a body language book. Both are good. I wish I could finish the Amanda Quick book tonight, but I'm too tired.

Happy reading!

Zoe Winters 2/13/2009 01:43:00 AM  

Thanks for the shout out, Spy! I'm doing pretty good in the polls, we'll see what the judges have to say. I should know something soon!

StarvingWriteNow 2/13/2009 07:13:00 AM  

I love his stuff. And yes, you need one do-nothing night a week. (Mine happens to be Friday night.) It's important to recharge.

Lauren 2/13/2009 10:48:00 AM  

I love E.M. Forster's works, but I haven't read any in several years. Thanks for sharing this excerpt.

Ello 2/13/2009 02:49:00 PM  

I have to say I am a big Forster fan. Loved Howard's End, Room with a View and Where Angel's Fear to Tread. Really beautiful stories all of them. He was a beautiful writer.

And good luck Zoe!

spyscribbler 2/13/2009 11:58:00 PM  

Oh gosh, Edie, I haven't read her in years! I forgot all about her! How can that happen?

If you don't read the books, the movies are just as exceptional. :-) Especially Howard's End!

spyscribbler 2/13/2009 11:59:00 PM  

Yes, you are, Zoe! And you've maintained your lead, too! I've got my fingers crossed for you!

spyscribbler 2/13/2009 11:59:00 PM  

WriteNow, I used to do nothing on Friday, at all! That's what I did today, but now I feel a little depressed. Oh well. Up and at em tomorrow!

spyscribbler 2/14/2009 12:00:00 AM  

Lauren, I want to read him again. Gosh, so many books, so little time!

spyscribbler 2/14/2009 12:00:00 AM  

Ello, I haven't read enough of him. Really. I have to read more!