Consider the emotional implications, the emotional irrationality, of these two incidents I witnessed:
When I was nineteen, I took a job for a short time in a little shop on a strip mall in Hewitt, New Jersey. The shop sold magazines, and greeting cards, and cigarettes, and lottery tickets, and, because both of the owners were interesting and impulsive, and because the shop had been there for ages, it was jammed with dusty glass cases full of dusty old knick-knacks and shelves from floor to ceiling packed with unlikely gift items that no one would ever buy.
One late afternoon, just before Christmas, a young boy about six or seven walked into the store clutching a five dollar bill in his hand. He started at one end of one of the glass cases and began carefully inspecting all the trinkets and junk under the impenetrable dust past which everyone else walked all day every day without notice.
Slowly, and with great concentration, he worked his way along the case. As he started on the second case, I walked over. "Can I help you find something?" I asked, leaninig over the case and looking down at him.
"I'm looking for a Christmas present for my Mom," he said, showing me the five dollars in his hand. Then he went back to peering hopefully through the dusty glass. But as he reached the end of the last case, he hadn't seen anything suitable for his mother, and his face showed his disappointment.
Suddenly his face lit up. There, against the far wall of the last case, in the back corner of it, barely visible under all the other junk, was the Christmas present for his mother. It was a giant costume jewelry ring—garish, and cheap, and ridiculous.
I took it out of the case, blew off the dust, and handed it to him.
He took it carefully, his eyes wide. The ring was big, and sparkly. It was the most beautiful thing in the whole store, maybe in the whole world. But according to the little yellowed tag that was still attached to it, it was also $8.50. His face fell when he saw the price, and he handed the ring back to me. "It's too much," he said, looking down at the floor.
"Well just a second here," I said, glancing over at Demi, one of the owners. "I think we have a sale on these." Demi nodded his approval. "Five dollars."
The boy's face lit back up, and as we rang up the sale, and put the ring in the nicest box we could find, and as he carefully slid the five dollar bill across the counter at us, he could barely contain his excitement. For sure, it would be tough waiting for Christmas to come that year.
The proud little boy bounced joyfully out of the store.
A few minutes later, a man walked into the store. He was the boy's father, and he had the little boy firmly by the hand—tugging him along. The man walked up to the counter, his face showing his anger. He slammed the box with the ring in it onto the counter. "How dare you," he snarled, glaring at Demi, "take advantage of a little boy like this. How dare you sell him this piece of trash! Give him his money back!"
Demi, of course, stunned, returned the boy's money. I looked at the little boy. When he had left the store, he had been excited and full of the anticipation of giving to his mother the most beautiful present she would ever receive. Now he hung his head in humiliation and shame.
One Saturday afternoon, when I was about twenty-five, I set up with my partner—a young woman from France—a little table in the middle of a New Jersey shopping mall to conduct a taste test for a soft drink that was being test-marketed. We placed on the table a couple of clipboards, some pens, a stack of suveys people were supposed to fill out, and dozens of little one-ounce paper cups filled with the green-colored soda.
A lot of people stopped and tried the soda, helpfully filling out the survey. Then a large woman approached the table with two little kids in tow—a boy about seven, and a girl a bit younger. The woman took a seat at the table, the boy stood on one side of her, the girl on the other, and we slid a clipboard in front of her. She had the air of someone who thought she was being filmed for a television commercial by a hidden camera. She made a big production out of slowly raising the cup and eyeing it before finally, with all the dramatic effect she could muster, drinking the soda.
While she was thus occupied, I noticed the boy eyeing the rows of little white cups with the fizzy green liquid in them. "Would you like to try some?" I asked without thinking. He smiled and eagerly nodded yes. I slid a cup across to him. He reached for the cup as Catherine slid one to the little girl, and raised the cup to his lips. But before he could take the first sip, his mother, smiling fixedly at me—not even looking at the little boy—hit him across the face with the back of her hand so hard that the soda flew out of the cup and landed on the table.
Catherine and I were shocked, of course, but we sat there in polite, feckless silence while the mother filled out her survey. What I remember most vividly about that day, however, was the look deep in the little boy's eyes as the back of his mother's hand made contact with his face. Before the embarrassment of being punished in public washed over him, I saw surprise. I saw confusion. And I saw the first flashes, way down deep in such a young little boy's eyes, of anger.
- Humans express rationality by acting in terms of the world as it really is; an irrational act violates the condition of reality.
- Behind every willed human action there lies an emotion.
- The emotional world is thus the well-spring of all human irrationality as well as the well-spring of all human rationality.
- Therefore, emotions can be said to be either rational or irrational (it is rational to fear an ax murderer, for instance, and irrational to fear a monster under the bed), and whether we act more or less rationally is dependent on the degree to which our emotions conform to the world as it really is—on the degree to which our emotions reflect reality.
- Since emotions are a part of the real world, humans are rational only insofar as we act in terms of both the physical and emotional worlds around us as they really are.
- In order to act rationally in terms of the physical world as it really is, it is necessary to have information at our disposal about the physical world around us. I cannot act rationally in terms of gravity, for example, if I do not know I am about to step out of a window on the tenth floor.
- All the information we possess about the physical world comes to us in one form or another through one or more of our senses.
- Our existence as rational beings—our humanity, in other words—is dependent upon our access to the information provided by our physical senses. I cannot avoid a ten-story drop to the pavement if I cannot see or hear or feel that I am about to step into a void.1
- Similarly, in order to act rationally in terms of the world as it really is, it is necessary to have information at our disposal about the emotional world around us. I cannot act rationally out of fear if I do not know when or whether the world around me is truly fearsome.
- All the information we possess about the emotional world around us comes in one form or another through our emotional sensors—through sensing and learning from the emotions and actions of the humans around us. I cannot operate contentedly unless I am able to know what is pleasing; I cannot be happy unless I know happiness, and I can only know this in the context of those around me.
- Accurately sensing the emotions of the humans around us requires we view the humans around us as humans in their own right. In other words, it requires the abnegation—contra our physical senses—of ourselves as the center of the universe.3
- To live a more rational life, then,
- membership in a community of humans
- mutually recognizing the humanity of each other and
- acting in terms of that reality.
- Therefore, membership in a Buddy Club means:
- active participation in a community, the members of which
- help distressed individuals by offering such individuals community
- aware that the helper benefits as much if not more from the act of helping than the helped.