Choosing Wisdom Over Mayhem
Dostoevsky’s great last work, The Brothers Karamazov, tells a story of Markel, diagnosed with tuberculosis and dying. In a conversation with his mother she wonders how he can possibly be so joyful in so serious a stage of his illness.
And we quote: "Mama," he replied to her, "do not weep, life is paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we don’t want to realize it, and if we did care to realize it, paradise would be established in all the world tomorrow."
And we all wondered at his words, so strangely and so resolutely did he say this; we felt tender emotion and we wept…."Dear mother, droplet of my blood," he said (at that time he had begun to use endearments of this kind, unexpected ones), "beloved droplet of my blood, joyful one, you must learn that of a truth each of us is guilty before all for everyone and everything. I do not know how to explain this to you, but I feel that it is so, to the point of torment. And how could we have lived all this time being angry with one another and knowing nothing of this?" [He spoke even of being guilty before the birds and all creation] …"Yes", he said, "all around me there has been such divine glory: birds, trees, meadows, sky, and I alone have lived in disgrace, I alone have dishonored it all, completely ignoring its beauty and glory."
"You take too many sins upon yourself,’" dear mother would say, weeping. "But dear mother, joy of my life. I am crying from joy, and not from grief; why, I myself want to be guilty before them, only I cannot explain it to you, for I do not know how to love them. Let me be culpable before all, and then all will forgive me, and that will be paradise. Am I not in paradise now?".
The lesson Dostoevsky teaches from these passages is forgive everyone… everything. Blame, recrimination, bitterness, anger, revenge, and the like are the ragings of our own egos and are not a foundation for justice, only for more anger and hatred. Mutual recriminations will never serve as the basis for reconciliation. We must resist thinking only in terms of left and right and begin thinking in terms of up and down. Perhaps this is what prompted members of the George Floyd family to call for forgiveness and for peaceful protest… that is, for wisdom over mayhem