Sunday, 1 May 2016

"Who knows what pain is behind virtue and what fear behind vice?"

Human behaviour is so often baffling: sometimes helpful, sometimes hurtful; what lies behind it?  What we observe and react to is only ever a very partial measure of the whole.

The glimpse of the creatures in the rock pool shown below is similar in that we can only ever see a small portion of what is there, and are left to guess the rest, either by science or imagination, or a combination of the two.  Of course, we can simply stroll on by, glancing at things superficially, but that would be to miss a lot.  It's so interesting.

Sea anemones

Two thousand years ago Roman philosopher, Seneca, put his view of personalities well:
It is not possible for us to know each other except as we manifest ourselves in distorted shadows to the eyes of others; therefore why should we judge a neighbour?  Who knows what pain is behind virtue and what fear behind vice?  No-one, in short, knows his thoughts, his joys, his bitterness, his agony, the injustices committed against him and the injustices he commits.
This is unarguable, and, I think, beautifully put.
 
The quotation continues:
God is too inscrutable for our little understanding.  After sad meditation it comes to me that all our lives, whether good or in error, mournful or joyous, obscure or of gilded reputation, painful or happy, is only a prologue to love beyond the grave, where all is understood and almost all forgiven.
I find this second part less convincing, based as it is on conjecture about God and life beyond the grave.

It leaves me with a whimsical notion of some angel of the afterlife thumbing through a stack of papers on which past misdeeds and sins have been recorded, saying, 'Exempt... Exempt... Exempt... Oh, ... this one NOT EXEMPT!" and the long, ominous look, followed by a call to the guards to come and take away the poor wretch!

In my view Seneca's sentiment that almost all is forgiven, is entirely human: even in those we most love and respect there are often a small number of things, incidents perhaps, that we can't altogether let go of or properly forgive.  Of divine forces we can't know how, or even if, these exercise judgment and forgiveness.  Only from looking at the natural world can we see ample evidence that there at least, consequences of every sort follow every action.

Given the extent of human folly and destructiveness, both individual and collective, most of us would wish for forgiveness.  

One wonders what it was in Seneca's life that he considered unforgiveable, in himself and in others.  There were two Seneca's, father and son, both of whom were eminent in their time.  From information culled from Wikipedia, I infer that this quote is from Seneca the Younger.  Since the Wikipedia article about him dwells considerably on his rumoured hypocrisy - a clash between what he said and how he actually lived, and his enforced suicide as ordered by emperor Nero, there seems to have been plenty of scope.

Seneca doesn't seem to have been all that successful in walking the talk.  To me this emphasises both the fallibility of human nature, and the necessity of hope with a capital H.  Hope for what?  Perhaps Hope that each of us may better embody the high standards we espouse and expect of others; for better understanding, for increased tolerance, for less complacency, or for the existence of a comfortable afterlife and ultimate forgiveness?  Take your pick.

The yawning chasm between high ideals and human behaviour can be disturbing.  So why bother with ideals?  On an everyday level we have to be guided by something, a shared commitment to the greater good, for instance, which does imply decent standards of behaviour and a courteous regard for others. We all fall short of that at times.

I am interested in people and the human condition, but there are times when my experience and observations are painful.  When consternated by people I turn to Nature for solace.  My interest in rock pools has been part of that. 

If you like the photograph of the rock pool you might enjoy articles in my beach series which can be found by clicking on the link below:
That particular image is from an article about sea anemonies
.