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Series I - Chapter 10 - ‘Respectability’

Series I - Chapter 10 - ‘Respectability’

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Commentaries on Living

HE ASSERTED THAT he was not greedy, that he was satisfied with little, and that life had been good to him, though he suffered the usual miseries of human existence. He was a quiet man, unobtrusive, hoping not to be disturbed from his easy ways. He said that he was not ambitious, but prayed to God for the things he had, for his family, and for the even flow of his life. He was thankful not to be plunged into problems and conflicts, as his friends and relations were. He was rapidly becoming very respectable and happy in the thought that he was one of the elite. He was not attracted to other women, and he had a peaceful family life, though there were the usual wrangles of husband and wife. He had no special vices, prayed often and worshipped God. “What is the matter with me,” he asked, “as I have no problems?” He did not wait for a reply, but smiling in a satisfied and somewhat mournful way proceeded to tell of his past, what he was doing, and what kind of education he was giving to his children. He went on to say that he was not generous, but gave a little here and there. He was certain that each one must struggle to make a position for himself in the world.

Respectability is a curse; it is an “evil” that corrodes the mind and heart. It creeps upon one unknowingly and destroys love. To be respectable is to feel successful to carve for oneself a position in the world, to build around oneself a was of certainty, of that assurance which comes with money, power, success, capacity or virtue. This exclusiveness of assurance breeds hatred and antagonism in human relationship, which in society. The respectable are always the cream of society, and so they are ever the cause of strife and misery. The respectable, like the despised, are always at the mercy of circumstances; the influences of environment and the weight of tradition are vastly important to them, for these hide their inward power. The respectable are on the defensive, fearful and suspicious. Fear is in their hearts, so anger is their righteousness; their virtue and piety are their defence. They are as the drum, empty within but loud when beaten. The respectable can never be open to reality, for, like the despised, they are enclosed in the concern for their own self-improvement. Happiness is denied to them, for they avoid truth.

To be non-greedy and not to be generous are closely related. Both are a self-enclosing process, a negative form of self-centredness. To be greedy, you must be active, outgoing; you must strive, compete, be aggressive. If you have not this drive, you are not free of greed, but only self-enclosed. Outgoing is a disturbance, a painful struggle, so self-centredness is covered over by the word non-greedy. To be generous with the hand is one thing, but to be generous of heart is another. Generosity of the hand is a fairly simple affair, depending upon the cultural pattern and so on; but generosity of the heart is of vastly deeper significance, demanding extensional awareness and understanding.

Not to be generous is again a pleasant and blind self-absorption, in which there is no outward-going. This self-absorbed state has its own activities, like those of a dreamer, but they never wake you up. The waking-up process is a painful one, and so, young or old, you would rather be left alone to become respectable, to die.

Like generosity of the heart, generosity of the hand is an outgoing movement, but it is often painful, deceptive and self-revealing. Generosity of the hand is easy to come by; but generosity of heart is not a thing to be cultivated, it is freedom from all accumulation. To forgive there must have been a wound; and to be wounded, there must have been the gatherings of pride. There is no generosity of heart as long as there is a referential memory, the “me” and the “mine.”