I teach very serious things very seriously from day one of my classes with every batch: by personal example, as much as is within my power. I also tell them ‘Tomorrow never comes’, and ‘You can take a horse to the water but you cannot make it drink’. Because I know that despite my most earnest efforts, most people will learn little of what I try to teach, or forget all too soon, and therefore never benefit from what they learnt here for the rest of their lives, even actually abuse me simply because they never learnt even a little bit of what I tried to teach, simply because I was just being what I always clearly told them I was, and proud to be.
The value of time, for instance, and never procrastinating. The importance of being clean, courteous and articulate in your thought and speech. How much little details matter, even details of spelling and grammar. The value of laughter, and how to distinguish clean, good, healthy laughter from the all-too-common gutter variety. How utterly crucial it is to become your own man/woman, and how incredibly hard it is, how easy to think that you are like that! How bad it is to jeer at others’ faults and follies, when you have come to learn and you are full of them yourself. How great a sickness gossip is, and soulless socializing simply because you are afraid to be alone with yourself, and want to be constantly reassured that the world is full of people quite as trivial as you are. How utterly evil it is to lie, even if one thinks that one is doing it just for fun. How love is the most used and abused word in the world, how cruel it is to say ‘I love you’ to someone again and again, and then turn around sometime later – a week or a year – to say ‘I only wanted a simple friendship’, or to drop out of his or her life completely without so much as a by your leave. ‘Don’t do it,’ I tell my children as they grow up, ‘don’t add to all the badness and baseness there already is in the world. Don’t pretend to be deeper than you are. You cannot keep it up for any length of time’. And they forget.
Also, the number and variety of people who come over for counsel, and tell me so much of their private joys and woes – though they hardly know me from Adam, and would be scandalized if I ever talked about what they tell me – makes me wonder, too. What do they seek in me? Just a shoulder to lean upon for a while, somewhere to unburden themselves, a sympathetic and non-judgmental listener? If that is indeed true, such listeners must be rare indeed, and the need for them great, for they keep coming, and some hang around for years, and even assure me they are grateful that I was there for them, people in the teens and seventies, men and women, ‘smart’ and not so; people who have suffered devastation and people who love to make mountains out of molehills. Like Mr. Chips dozing by the fireside in his dotage, the names and faces pass through my mind in an endless fading pageant… Some are even thoughtful and humane enough to wonder aloud how I find so much time for them, and why I care. So many gladly offer to pay. And sooner or later they all go away, either because they don’t like me any more (that happens gradually with some and very suddenly and unexpectedly with others), or they no longer have any need for me.
Put yourself imaginatively in my shoes. Why do you think I still keep at it? And what is likely to be my opinion of the mass of mankind by now, including and especially those who have this opinion of themselves that they are good human beings?