Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.
So I was talking with my roommate E the other day about principles — about the idea that it’s better to figure out reasonably consistent guiding principles and apply them to situations, rather than make case-by-case judgments.
Like, to take a not-at-all random example, I spend a lot of time on the Internet in various communities, and I’m a firm proponent of trigger warnings and tagging. Like that time I was browsing Tumblr and someone had just straight-up posted graphic photos of a lynching, with no warning or anything. I think people should warn for stuff like that. On the other hand, I really do believe that my corner of the Internet is my corner of the Internet and I can talk about whatever I want there. If I want to talk about Thomas Harris and NBC’s Hannibal — and I frequently do — which means talking about murder and cannibalism and emotional abuse and nightmare fuel galore, I get to do that. If people don’t want to read about that kind of stuff, they can go somewhere else, or unfollow me, or whatever. It’s not my responsibility to censor myself to the point of not talking about Hannibal at all because it’ll squick some people.
These are both pretty reasonable beliefs to hold, but they’re kind of diametrically opposed. On a case-by-case basis, it’d be easy for me to end up in a place where I insist everyone is responsible for tagging stuff so that I don’t have to see things they post, but where I don’t have to trigger warn for anything because everyone needs to be responsible for themselves.
So anyway we were talking about working from principles, how if you don’t have a guiding principle you can easily find yourself in these harmful, selfish patterns of behavior. Even if you have the best of intentions! My only intention might be “take care of myself,” which is a great intention. Self-care is important. But if I don’t tag my stuff with trigger warnings, I might making people unhappy, or worse than unhappy.
As we talked, I mentioned that I really didn’t want to couch my personal principles in religious language, but that’s where my brain kept circling back to: language from the Gospels, let he who is without sin, but the greatest of these is Love, love thy neighbor as thyself. That, and the language I absorbed at my karate dojo: We must improve our manners, respect, and self-discipline. Treat other people the way you like to be treated.
“I think my guiding principle is compassion,” I said. “That kind of covers everything.
E agreed. “It means even if I disagree with someone on an intellectual level about, like, the harm of using a particular term–”
“Right — I won’t use it around them.”
“Right. Dammit, babies, you’ve got to be kind.”
It is, in its way, a religious idea, insofar as it shows up in pretty much every religion: compassion trumps. Grant that I may seek not so much to be consoled as to console. Show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbor that is a kinsman and the neighbor that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. The concept of ahimsa. As the All-present is called compassionate and gracious so be you also compassionate and gracious and offering thy gifts freely to all.
But I think Vonnegut might have said it best, really. Gave it a wide-reaching phrasing, a conciseness, a phrase I feel good about keeping in mind when I deal with people, when I try to make judgment calls about “do I trigger warn for this? Do I call out that? Do I give money here? Do I hold out a hand?”
There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.