I saw a show the other night highlighting the life of a famous man who had died. The words used to describe him were: petulant, impatient, brilliant. They said that he could be brutally rude to anyone (waitresses, cab drivers, fellow employees….) that didn’t live up to his standards. When asked by a friend, why he acted this way, his explanation was that he demanded excellence in all areas of life, and that basically if someone was not, in his opinion, excellent, he felt justified in telling them his opinion of their work; their life. They said that this man, while admittedly brilliant, was not kind. He had everything by worldly standards, and yet he looked unhappy and tense.
I read a quote, years ago by Rabbi Heschel; “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.” I also remember not really understanding the power of this thought at the time. I was in my early 30’s, in graduate school (studying theology no less), but there was a high degree of competition, tension, and lack of cooperation present in the school and student body. Life seemed harsh; lots of sarcastic banter, a lot of talk that began with the words, “I need to be honest with you about….” (this always meant that someone was going to tell you something that they didn’t like about you, your behaviour…).
I wonder if the brilliant man was a happier man, would his version of honesty have changed? How many times have I had a harsh, critical thought about myself or someone else and the only reality, the only “truth” in it was that I was having a bad day. When I get myself into a better state of mind, the world, and everything in it, looks better to me too.
“Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true”. Robert Brault.