I know this bloke who writes a series of stuff and sends it by e-mail to various message groups consisting of his friends and relatives. He turns out some heady stuff, with titles such as “The Woman and the Goldsmith” and “The Hardest Virtue”, and so forth.
Now I don’t normally indulge in plagiarism since I don’t think it’s a very nice thing to do, but these two stories gave me an idea. In “The Woman …”, this bloke talks about a journey that you need to undertake to come to understand and appreciate a person who you distrust, dislike or hate at first because of something you think she or he has thought, said, or done. The journey is arduous, and you will have achieved something really worthwhile at the end of your hard labour, since you will now see, for the first time, the good in the other person.
It occurred to me that, psychologically, this journey has the sense orientation of a horizontal movement, as in one’s arm extending forward, parallel to the ground, when one shakes hands with another guy or extends the arm to place the hand on his shoulder. You are covering ground, as it were, as you would if you were running. Or as in your slow, difficult and resolute walk towards a bitter adversary to forge a hopefully lasting truce.
The flat orientation of your journey to meet the other person is a powerfully symbolic reminder that you are on the level with him, that you both are in the same plane, and that neither of you is in any way superior to the other. It is clearly a win-win situation.
Now I checked out the bloke’s output for something else that was also vaguely suggestive of some kind of movement. Rummaging through my old e-mails (I am a compulsive e-hoarder), I found “The Hardest Virtue”, something that he must have dreamed up after listening to a great artist at the piano. For, connecting various bits and pieces from my memory, it came to me that it was humility that was the hardest virtue, and that it was not necessarily incompatible with greatness, something typified in its absolute quintessence by Claudio Arrau, that legendary musician.
I could see why the bloke was referring to humility when he was describing the hardest virtue, and my unconscious mind somehow immediately associated that with the teaching of Jesus, who says that we must “turn the other cheek”. But why this association?
Well, it seemed to me that it very difficult to turn the other cheek when we are wronged, just as it is very difficult to remain humble when one has an extraordinary gift that has made one worldfamous. It is like climbing Mount Everest, up a steep slope, an almost vertical ascent.
Jesus really knew what he was doing when he said we should turn the other cheek, for he knew that this was very difficult and, for that very reason, worthwhile achieving. He was implying, in effect, that, while it is very easy to indulge in your lower emotions and retaliate sharply, it is really hard to refrain from doing so. He encouraged, challenged, exhorted and motivated us to climb up that tortuous path from our lower to our higher nature, not unlike the hard struggle to maintain our humility in the face of intoxicating pride in our achievements.
And now I recollected what I am fairly sure the bloke had studied in school physics, for I had done it myself too as a kid. It’s called “parallelogram of forces” in the study of mechanics in physics, and says that the magnitude and direction of two forces acting at a point determines the magnitudes and directions of the resultant. The theory shows that, if the two forces can be fully represented (in both magnitude and direction) by two adjacent sides of a parallelogram, then the resultant is, in turn, fully described by the diagonal of the parallelogram from the point the force is applied to its opposite corner.
As we have observed in physics problems based on this principle, the longer is the horizontal side that forms the parallelogram’s base, the longer is the diagonal, and hence, in turn, the longer the time taken to reach the opposite corner.
And now, thanks to that bloke, who started off the whole thinking process in me, I am seeing a relationship between what I said earlier and the physics theorem. For the longer it takes me to make the horizontal journey towards understanding and loving those I hated, the longer will it take me to traverse the diagonal, to so ascend the steep, nearly vertical slope from my lower to my higher nature, and hence to turn the other cheek with calmness and without resentment toward those that have wronged me. See?
But enough of all this idle chatter. Now let’s just start moving sideways and upwards along that diagonal, shall we?