I consider the education of our senses and our emotions rather more important than the education of our ideas.
–Lin Yutang (1895-1976), urbane and charming man of letters who spent a lifetime explaining China to the West.
I am rereading Lin Yutang’s 1938 classic The Importance of Living, and came across this passage, whose relevance to 1938 seems no less than its relevance to 2005.
From The Importance of Living, “On Having a Mind”:
One must never deprecate the capacity of the human mind when dealing with the natural universe or anything except human relationships. Optimistic about the conquests of science, I am less hopeful about the general development of a critical mind in dealing with human affairs, or about mankind reaching a calm and understanding far above the sway of passions. Mankind as individuals may have reached austere heights, but mankind as social groups are still subject to primitive passions, occasional back-slidings and outcroppings of the savage instincts, and occasional waves of fanaticism and mass hysteria.
Knowing then our human frailties, we have the more reason to hate the despicable wretch who in demagogue fashion makes use of our human foibles to hound us into another world war; who inculcates hatred, of which we already have too much; who glorifies self-aggrandizement and self-interest, of which there is no lack; who appeals to our animal bigotry and racial prejudice; who deletes the fifth commandment in the training of youth and encourages killing and war as noble, as if we were not already warlike enough creatures; and who whips up and stirs our mortal passions, as if we were not already very near the beast. This wretch’s mind, no matter how cunning, how sagacious, how worldly-wise, is itself a manifestation of the beast. The gracious spirit of wisdom is tied down to a beast or a demon in us, which by this time we have come to understand is nothing but our animal heritage, or rather it ties this demon down by an old and worn leash and holds it but in temporary submission. At any time the leash may snap, and the demon be unleashed, and amidst hosannas the car of Juggernaut will ride roughshod over us, just to remind us once more how terribly near the savage we have been all this time, and how superficial is our civilization. Civilization will then be turned into a magnificent stage, on which Moors will kill Christians and Christians kill Moors and Negroes fall upon whites and whites stab Negroes and field mice emerge from sewers to eat human corpses and hawks circle in the air over an abundant human feast–all just to remind ourselves of the brotherhood of animals. Nature is quite capable of such experiments . . . .
How can we remedy the situation? The critical mind is too thin and cold; thinking itself will help little and reason will be of small avail; only the spirit of reasonableness, a sort of warm, glowing, emotional and intuitive thinking, joined with compassion, will insure against a reversion to our ancestral type. Only the development of our life to bring it into harmony with our instincts can save us. I consider the education of our senses and our emotions rather more important than the education of our ideas.
If Lin Yutang is right–ask any married couple if you’re in doubt–then how can we cultivate a “spirit of reasonableness”? How can we educate our senses and our emotions?
These questions seem to me much more important than many others now occupying our “thin and cold” critical minds.