From Sarcasm To Blessing: Setting The Perceptual Filters
I was looking for something to read with my breakfast today, and found a book by Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth, which I had picked up from our local library’s free box. Who can resist a free box? And I’ve always admired Mark Twain for his wry wit.
This is a collection of Twain’s writings which were published after his death, according to his wish. He figured he would be arrested if they were published while he was alive.
For example, he’s talking about the way humans have invented their own concepts of God and heaven, and writes
“You know what the human race enjoys, and what it doesn’t enjoy. It has invented a heaven out of its head, all by itself: guess what it is like! In 1500 eternities you couldn’t do it. The ablest mind known to you or me in 50 million aeons couldn’t do it. Very well, I will tell you about it.”
- “First of all, I recall to your attention the extraordinary effect with which I began. To wit, that the human being, like the immortals, naturally places sexual intercourse far and away above all other joys – – yet he is left it out of his heaven! The very thought of it excites them; opportunity sets him wild; in this state he will risk life, reputation, everything – – even his queer heaven itself – – to make good that opportunity and ride it to the overwhelming climax.… Yet it is actually as I have said: it is not in their heaven; prayer takes its place.”
Or another paragraph further down,
- “In man’s heaven everybody sings! The man who did not sing on earth sings there; the man who could not sing on earth is able to do it there. This universal singing is not casual, not occasional, not relieved by intervals of quiet; it goes on all day long: in every day, during a stretch of 12 hours. And everybody stays; whereas an earth the place would be empty in two hours. The singing is of hymns alone.…”
And two paragraphs further down,
- “Meantime, every person is playing on a harp – – those millions and millions! – whereas not more than 20 in the thousand of them could play an instrument on the earth, or ever wanted to.”
Since I woke up with a headache, the negative attitude of Twain’s sarcasm fit right in. Indeed, there was what psychologists call a secondary gain, I might be in pain and somewhat ashamed to be part of this ridiculous human race, but, on the other hand, I was one of the superior ones who appreciated the insanity of it all.
I finished breakfast, put down Mark Twain, and went on to the work of the day. Mostly forgetting about what I’d read, but with a certain negative undercurrent running through things. Then after lunch, since my wife is away, I went shopping for groceries. I had negative expectations, I don’t like crowds, and Twain had reminded me what idiots all us human beings are anyway. But, to my amazement, after I’d been a few minutes in the grocery store, I noticed how many smiling people were talking to other smiling people. I noticed the clerk in my line, who must’ve been working for hours by then with one customer after another, talking with them and smiling at them, and it looked completely genuine! She was enjoying her day. All these people around me, who must be subject to the normal vicissitudes of human life were demonstrating – – not really “demonstrating,” they were just living it – – the simple pleasantries that we can have from being human.
My 50th year had come and gone
I sat a solitary man
In a crowded London shop
An open book an empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and Street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And 20 minutes more or less,
It seemed so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.
Now I wish I could say that I was experiencing some incredible feeling of blessing myself, but no, I was quite within the range of ordinary human happiness, and I liked the people around me and indeed blessed them in my quiet way.
What a simple demonstration of how our beliefs and feelings can selectively alter our perception to coincide with our ongoing beliefs and feelings. This morning, a headache, witty sarcasm, a reminder of what a shitty world we live in, the horrible way people treat each other, their foolishness about it, and so what if I was a little superior to the great mobs, I was caught in it too. This afternoon, a simple rejoining of the human race, there’s a lot of nice people out there and I like/love them and wish them the best!