A philosopher/writer named Jacob Needleman came to speak at Google last week. He deals with the question of - why can't we be good? We all have this idea of what it means to be a good person, that we want to be patient and bold and generous and kind. And yet the minute someone takes our parking spot, bumps into us in the shopping mall, forgets to finish our dry cleaning on the day it was supposed to be done, or any number of larger situations, we immediately show the worst of ourselves. How do you rectify this? How do you meet someone's constant attempt to rib you with ultimate calm and understanding. He talked a bit about it, about what happens when we step away from ourselves as we're angry and say to ourselves "I'm annoyed."
He said that there are two people when we're mad - the one who is yelling or being petty or mean, and the one who doesn't really want to be hurtful to the other person at all. That other person simply wants to give and to get a lot. I am rarely one who is quick to anger, and over the past months I have learned slowly to be more patient than I am now, to step back and analyze my feelings and understand why I'm mad.
I've also learned the power of a quick apology when I've unintentionally angered someone. This is not to say that we ought to tiptoe around our lives, trying to never step on each other's toes. It simply means that when we become angry, we ought to understand why, for anger in many ways contains poison, a desire to do evil to our fellow human beings. And this is never a good thing.
Matt Olson wrote me a letter today recalling a conversation we had on a balmy Manhattan evening years ago. He asked me if it was okay to do something you didn't like, where you earned a lot of money so that you could do the things you really wanted to in two or three years. He at that time said it might be okay. I said no, that if you don't enjoy what you're dong, then it wasn't worth it to waste years there just for the money. He said it affected him deeply; he is currently in New Orleans working at a bookseller's and writing for area magazines. He asked me "Do you still feel that way?"
All day I have been struggling with that. I must look again and again, more deeply. I do not know the answer.