June 15 entry: An Accurate Measure of Society.
“It’s as accurate a measure as any of a society: what is the smallest act of kindness that is considered heroic?” Anne Michaels
Anne Michaels asks this in Fugitive Pieces, an incredibly poetic book of a young Jewish boy who, saved from certain death in WWII Poland, finds sanctuary in Greece and then Toronto. It’s a tale of loss, grief and self forgiveness. It is absolutely beautiful.
In writing about complicity and morality in the war years, Michaels writes:
"In those days, to be moral required no more than the slightest flicker of movement —a micrometer —of eyes looking away or blinking, while a running man crossed a field. And those who gave water or bread! They entered a realm higher than the angels’ simply by remaining in the human mire.”So I ask, what small act of kindness is considered heroic in the community in which you live? Is it an accurate measure of our society?
June 25 “vog” answers the question with: At times, to me, a small act of kindness is simply to listen with compassion ... to not judge, just listen to one who so desperately needs to express herself ... to not react or respond unless asked to ... the simple support of thoughtful listening, and allowing a fellow human to express their anger, frustration, loss in a non-judgmental environment. Expression can be very healing, and a necessary need.
Jo-Ann responds: Hi vog. I appreciate your "small" act of kindness, it is truly a beautiful thing and not small at all. But, is it heroic? And if it is, what does that say about our society?
Vog responds: To answer your question, Jo-Ann ... Yes, I do think that this small act of kindness in active, thoughtful listening is heroic. To support my answer, let's look at the meaning of heroic = actions marked by courage or doing; supremely noble or self-sacrificing (from Merrian Webster dictionary). To not let one's ego react, and to instead hold it back and let our compassion blossom, to block our own fears and denials ... to support another, yes, to me that is difficult to do, takes courage, and is self-sacrificing. It is wonderful that in this society we have so much freedom and abundance, and yet I think that it also comes with a price ... too many narcissistic personalities who cannot see beyond themselves and their own ego.
Jo-Ann responds: Okay, that makes sense, listening with compassionate can be a heroic act. It takes courage to step beyond one’s reactive parts (aspects of who we are) and respond to another from the heart. But what does that say about our society if letting “our compassion blossom” is considered heroic? Anne Michaels wrote that turning a blind eye towards a Jewish man running across a field in Nazi Germany was heroic. That speaks volumes to the state of which wartime Germany was governed: certain lives were considered worthless and kindness was not so much measured in giving but in not seeing.
If thoughtful and active listening is labeled heroic what does that say about our society?
And, on a side note, is active listening really self-sacrificing or is it more about enhancing or building a stronger sense of Self? If we have a strong sense of who we are, do not our fears, defences and denials lessen their hold on us? With a strong sense of Self I feel our ability to listen deepens and we come more readily from the heart… quite self-enriching, in fact. But maybe, then, it is the definition of heroism that should be changed. Real heroic behaviour enriches all those involved, including the giver.