Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I haven't seen Herschel in a while. Herschel lives across the street, has one bum leg, fought in the Korean War, and has been known to go off his meds from time to time ... once to such an extent that he took an ax to the front doors of various neighbors he thought were assholes. I always felt somehow gratified that he didn't take an ax to my door while the doors to the left and right of my house were trashed.

Anyway, I haven't seen Herschel in a while. I think age may be catching up with him and he is waiting, as many old people wait, in the silences of his own house. It's snowing today and I doubt that Herschel will be out with his snow blower as he has been in so many years past ... limp or no limp, age or no age, pushing the snow blower. Crusty old bastard!

Gloria, an aging short woman from down the block, seems to have taken Herschel under her wing. She comes and goes on errands whose intent I cannot guess. Helping Herschel ... helping ... helping... helping. And for all I know, she is helping. But there is something about Gloria that makes me feel that she is not so much helping Herschel as she is helping herself, raising her own stock of goodness at the expense of someone else. A Christian kindness, perhaps or maybe it's Jewish. Anyway it's goodness of a kind others might recognize as goodness ... goodness that might be praised.

All of this may be my imagination based on flimsy evidence, but it makes me realize how irritable I can get when being around people who are determined to be 'good.' 'Good' people always have an excuse -- they are doing what is socially profitable, what is beamed upon ... no one can fault them as thinly-veiled egotists because, after all, they are doing 'good' works. The tendency -- whether true or untrue in the current instance -- makes me recognize how irritable I can become about show-offs.

Everyone plays let's-pretend before they actually get the knack of something. Buddhists take precepts. Christians praise kindness. News articles encourage volunteer-ism. Let's pretend we are better than we are before we are actually better ... which is to say, in no need of halos or smug satisfaction. It's a phase which, with luck, we can outgrow. Imagine how much less Mother Theresa might have accomplished if, after each good effort, she had wondered whether it was good or not.

With luck, the phony-baloney inspires true baloney. But in the meantime, it can be a titty-twister ... butter-wouldn't melt-in-his/her-mouth kind of stuff.

Goodness, my ass!


  1. "As for doing good; that is one of the professions which is full. Moreover I have tried it fairly and, strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution. "
    Henry David Thoreau, Walden

  2. I've always been embarrassed that I never read Thoreau. Not embarrassed enough to correct my oversight, mind you ... what the hell, I never read "Moby Dick" either and I have no intention of trying to now.

    Put me down as a lazy illiterate.

  3. Pretending can actually help, I think, depending on the pretender. In AA there's a long-standing tradition of "fake it 'til you make it", advising newly sober people to emulate sobriety-supporting actions even though they don't "feel" it. Just like in math, where repeatedly doing the prescribed operations without understanding them at all can lead to getting it, going through the motions can lead to a deeper connection, I think. But not always, as you say, and I suspect motivation is key. If one does it for public display, the result usually seems to be ego inflation rather than something from the heart.

    But even pretending to do good works beats pretending to do evil, so there's that.

  4. I think you are being a bit harsh :) I know good people but they don't think of themself as good, it's just what they do, whom they are. Please be gentle.

  5. Although doing kind deeds for others

    Is a wonderful thing . Basic goodness dose not arise

    from are good deeds . Good deeds arise from basic goodness .

    The true test of that goodness is not in the piles of merit you

    achieve from doing good deeds . The true test of basic

    Goodness is the amount of evil you can tolerate before

    Becoming Irrevocably evil yourself

  6. We have some simply beautiful tulips in a vase on the kitchen table which open in the daylight and close at night. The intelligence of such a simple beautiful thing to open to the light of day. If plants in vases can do it people can to. See the light?