Some people have ill intentions and all have the capacity for barbarism – but some also have consciences and ALL have a heart
I believe that human beings are inherently good. I believe that human beings are inherently compassionate. Living beings will do all they can to survive, to procreate, and to see their offspring and future generations thrive; I’m fully on board with the Darwinians in that respect. And I also accept that living beings (in particular humans) have a propensity towards, and capacity for, barbarism, selfishness, cruelty, wickedness, violence and many other traits counter to their compassionate instincts. We are walking, talking paradoxes, that’s for sure. And we come in all shapes, sizes, colours and creeds – no two human beings are the same and one must always be wary of generalising about such a diverse species.
That being said, it is my intention to illuminate, like many brilliant minds before my comparatively puny intellectual abilities, how wonderful human beings really are, why we do deserve our place in the universe and how we can redeem ourselves for neglecting the immense splendours we have been afforded by life – particularly in the last 100 years or so. We have so much to be thankful for – love, compassion, kindness, companionship. I accept that it’s impossible to actually prove that you feel a certain way about something (in the manner Soren Kierkegaard discussed when writing about truth) – these feelings are wholly subjective. But I can tell you that the emotions I experienced the day I saw my son Samuel being born were unlike anything else that’s ever happened to me – I felt, physically, like my heart was going to burst out of my chest. That overwhelming love, that compassion, that pride, that Niceness, was something indescribable (forgive me at this juncture for adopting such a flaky term as Niceness – I just really wanted to do the Heidegger/Sartre title thing). I like to think of it as my genuine entity, my true inner self – all my love, and all my compassion, coming to the surface, transcending the metaphysical to become something of substance in the physical world – something that truly exists, a shared essence in our interconnected symbolic realm, ambivalent, ambiguous, both abstract and concrete.
I call this most true essence of living beings Genuinity – a positive, life-affirming quality, sprinkled with feminine energy, led by the voice of one’s inner child. As the definitions suggest – Genuine: of a person = sincere. Truly what it is said to be. And Entity: being. Existence. A thing with distinct and independent existence. Genuinity is your true self in its truest, most stripped-back form. Prior to the symbolic realm, reason, knowledge, understanding. Beyond language, transcendent – even mystical, perhaps. Certainly of-itself and impossible to understand completely or properly define. But evident in love, compassion, trust, support, protection, nurturing instincts and our desire to live and keep on living.
It’s a concept I have formulated and fused over the course of 15 years; from the philosophical approaches I have greatly admired and the various works of art from which I have taken such enjoyment and meaning (at least what I see as art in my own personal Dionysian way). Freud’s Eros, Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, positivist Existentialism, Taoism, Marxism and Socialism, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, the music of Radiohead, twentieth-century American literature, sport, Battlestar Gallactica, The Simpsons – just some of the things from which I draw inspiration, as well as the most important muses of all – my family and friends, and every single Nice person I meet; every single act of Niceness I encounter.
All of these people, ideas, experiences and artistic endeavours (as well as my own Genuinity) have helped me to formulate my own concepts based on the genuine entity, Genuinity – these being Pure Niceness and Complex Niceness, as well as other ideas based on these fundamental elements of this positive life-affirming quality.
I will illuminate and explore some of these concepts in this post, before using them, and a variety of other established philosophical ideas, to investigate how we can aim to be better human beings by tapping into our Genuinity and using knowledge, understanding and reason to move societies forward in a positive way – counter to much of what we are unfortunately seeing in a troubled modern world.
Genuinity draws and attracts us (living beings) to one another – it connects us. A connection comparable to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s beautifully crafted ‘patchwork of consciousness’ – where the minds of all human beings are interwoven and held together, with each individual being a little pocket of consciousness, eventually smoothed out when they are no longer part of the fabric (or, sans euphemism – dead). Genuinity is part of what makes us want to survive and live on (much like Freud’s Eros drive), but it’s more than that. It’s the very essence of compassion, and not just limited to humanity. The compulsion to do good, to live in harmony (particularly with nature in a Taoist sense), to live in peace, to share, to care, to love, to protect. Every living being on earth is born with Genuinity – some are just able to extract and apply it more easily than others. It is the spirit of compassion – a shared life-affirming essence that compels living beings to be good and do good. Some people choose to block out their Genuinity. And some are better at maintaining that defiance more than others. But it exists in all of us.
Like the Taoist Way, Genuinity is both a childish and feminine energy – unburdened by the rigours of time, never cynical, always positive. It compels us to make connections – be lovers, have babies, nurture friendships. To be kind, caring and inquisitive – to learn, to have fun and to see the good in everyone; to go with the flow and to appreciate what one has. Empathy comes from one’s inner self. The more aggressive masculine energy, which seeks to consume and dominate, has no place in Genuinity. That isn’t a slight on men in any way – I am, after all, a man myself (though I’ve always felt quite in touch with my feminine side, which helped me to write this blog). Masculine strength can be useful – it just needs to be steered by femininity. Behind every great man is a great woman – and vice versa. And inside every great man and woman is a compassionate, feminine energy. It is simply my belief that truly great men cannot exist without tapping into their Genuinity – and that Genuinity is guided by this feminine energy.
Using our hearts AND our heads
There is no consideration or thought of reciprocity in Genuinity – as it is beyond thought. But that doesn’t mean acts of kindness, of Niceness, cannot be influenced by experience, reason, knowledge and understanding. These instances I call acts of Complex Niceness. Perhaps the best way to explain exactly what I mean by Complex Niceness is to bring in another term – Pure Niceness. Now, the latter is quite simply Niceness for Niceness’ sake – much like the way Kant explored duty for duty’s sake in his blockbuster Categorical Imperative(s). Acts of Pure Niceness are those which are enacted directly from Genuinity – giving one’s life for another’s, helping those less fortunate (with no other agenda or influence other than the compulsion to do good), tending to the sick and needy without reward and not because of an obligation of some kind. Even something as simple as paying someone a compliment with no hidden purpose would qualify as an act of Pure Niceness (if possible – this would depend on how much can we be held accountable for our unconscious desires as a driving force everything we do).
In contrast, acts of Complex Niceness, while still informed and driven by Genuinity, are (naturally!) more complicated. They are influenced by extenuating factors such as reason, knowledge, understanding and experience. You might, for example, feel compelled to congratulate a colleague on a promotion at work, even though you feel a bit jealous of their success. Perhaps you’re under-appreciated in your own position in the same office? It wasn’t a natural or easy decision to be Nice in this instance, but after considering how you would feel in their shoes, by thinking about the type of person you want to be and how you feel you should behave, you make the decision to congratulate them – to make them feel good. The mechanics behind these acts of Complex Niceness might seem to take the shine off the altruistic nature of Pure Niceness. But this is just an important part of the human condition and that which makes us what we are.
Pure Niceness v Complex Niceness
So Pure Niceness just is – it is because it is. It’s of itself. No explanation is required of an act of Pure Niceness – it’s not a consequence of anything which preceded the act; other than being a product of one’s Genuinity. Complex Niceness, on the other hand, can have an explanation, or a purpose or a reason behind it – a story to tell; something which informs its being. Pure Niceness is the ideal – but working for, and arriving at, states of Complex Niceness tend to be the reality. It’s worth noting here that reason alone cannot tell you how to live your life, as the grandfather of existentialism Soren Kierkegaard realised. Only you can make that first initial leap (only you can make your own choices). We have reason to guide us (Complex Niceness) but also something that comes from within, from our inner self, which transcends reason – and that is Genuinity. This is where acts of Pure Niceness are born. It is impossible to prove the intentions behind an altruistic act – given the subjective nature. But, put quite simply, any act of Niceness which comes from Genuinity and is carried out with the sole intention of being Nice is an act of Pure Niceness. The genuine act transcends the ego ideal, the superego, the vested interest. Always trying to see the best in others – the essence of such an act is an example of Pure Niceness. But the application of it – the process which leads to judgement, and the degree to which one can see the good in others – is an act of Complex Niceness; using reason, prior knowledge and understanding.
The trouble with thinking it
At this juncture I need to begin to address one of the many flaws you’ll find throughout these blog posts. It is easy enough to accept the notion that an act of Pure Niceness is transcendent of thought – and that an act of Complex Niceness is a consequence of being able to think it. But if I am to give my life to save another (a selfless act that must fall into the realm of Pure Niceness) then I must think of doing the act in order to perform it? Well, I can’t really argue against that contradiction – except to say that the nature of acts of Pure Niceness in my philosophy are as detached from thought as any act could possibly be. They are spontaneous. There is no planning or prior judgement – Pure Niceness just happens. Whether it be the first laugh or smile of a newborn baby (which almost seem to defy cognitive functioning such as reasoning and understanding), the unbreakable spirit of the protective mother or the police officer who lays down their life for members of the public they’ve never met. Acts such as the latter appear to be those of ‘duty for duty’s sake’, like those illuminated in Kant’s Categorical Imperative. But pure reason, rationality and existentialist choice cannot fully explain why someone would give their own life to save another person they don’t even know. That is Pure Niceness – in all its simplicity and glory. One might argue that the opportunity to be lauded for one’s heroism could be a factor here. To leave a legacy of honour – to be remembered as a hero. And that will certainly be true in some cases of such valour. But is that really what goes through someone’s mind when they’re giving their own life to save another’s – particularly in an instance when there is little or no time to think their actions/options through? Such behaviour is contrary to reason – it defies logic. The rational thing would be for the policeman with a young family not to risk his or her life – so why do they do it? Is it a sense of duty, is it simply bravery, or is it something beyond the empirical, beyond the rational; something transcendent? It’s Genuinity.
Practise what you preach – and accept your limitations
As I previously mentioned, there are flaws in my ideas. There are incomplete thoughts, inaccuracies, contradictory statements and stuff which is just plain wrong (I imagine – not intentionally!) I’m also pretty bad at practising what I preach – I’m a terrible sulk, I think bad things occasionally, I say bad things occasionally and I do bad things occasionally. I’ve done stuff I regret and I still do stuff I regret – all the time. I’m human, I’m flawed and I make mistakes. And some people will quite rightly wonder what gives me the right to try to guide others on how to live? And they would be well within their rights to think that. But I’m also sure of who I am – and who I want to be. I really believe in Niceness and Genuinity and the good that can be done if we all (at least) try to be Nicer to one another. So I stand by what I say – I defend my words and ideas because I believe in them. I believe in what I’m trying to do and why I’m trying to do it. I want to be a good person and I try to become a better person every day. I don’t always get it right – but I will not give up trying.
I’m no expert (at anything, but especially living a good, honest life) – I’m just a sports journalist with an interest in philosophy and a love of mankind and an appreciation of life. Good philosophers understand that we can never really know all the answers to anything – well I don’t purport to have anything like a comprehensive understanding of any of the things I’m writing about. But I enjoy exploring them. And I feel happy about trying to do something good. So I apologise in advance for errors, misinterpretations of ideas, and anything else that might seemingly undermine my work. But even though it’s a million miles from perfect, it’s still worth doing – because I enjoy it. And that’s good for my Genuinity! I really have tried my best – and that’s all you can ever ask of anyone.
This blog is a voyage of self-discovery – one which I hope will take me, and anyone who reads it, to a better place.
TYPES OF NICENESS
Below are the main types of Niceness I will continually refer to throughout this blog, as well as a few sub-branches of Complex Niceness:
Pure Niceness – niceness for niceness’ sake. An act which stems from solely from Genuinity.
Anti-Niceness – any act that conflicts or counters Genuinity. For example, senseless violence, murder for the sake of killing. Genocide.
Complex Niceness – niceness when reason and experience are applied. Stems from Genuinity – but complimented by rational thought.
BRANCHES OF COMPLEX NICENESS
Holding Niceness – almost a superficial act of niceness. Being nice even though one does not feel the compulsion to be nice. Keeping up appearances in order to avoid causing emotional pain to another. Only temporary. Once one is over what is holding back genuine feelings of niceness, they can disregard Holding Niceness. But until then, these acts help to keep up an appearance of niceness, even if one is not genuinely feeling it.
Existentialist Niceness – being brave enough to be honest, even though it might hurt someone’s feelings or not benefit you to do so (other than, arguably, lightness of conscience). Making the choice that the best course of action is to take responsibility to exercise one’s freedom – and reveal one’s true feelings, even though it may hamper you or cause another person temporary or lasting emotional harm.
Taoist Niceness – acts of niceness which help to remove stress, emphasise the need to go with the flow and accept things as they are. Niceness towards the earth and the environment. Niceness which seeks to support the natural order. For example, convincing a colleague with low self-esteem that they are a useful member of your team and that the operation runs more smoothly with their input – giving them balance in their life and helping them to feel worthy; that they have a place and they deserve that place.
Utilitarianism and Altruism – both examples of Complex Niceness. In utilitarianism, the idea is to produce the best consequences possible – increasing the amount of good things in the world and decreasing the amount of bad. The greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Altruism is selfless concern for the needs of others – choosing to work in an old people’s home to help the vulnerable. But still a choice – and thus an act of Complex Niceness.
Beneficial Niceness – doing something good or nice with the intention of being nice but also of furthering one’s own interests. Blatant but honest – self-serving act but still a kind one. Must be open and intentional.
Soul Food Niceness – acting nice to feed one’s soul – or make yourself feel good. For example, giving money to charity. Still a nice act, but one that is done with the added benefit of feeling good about oneself. A sub-branch or Beneficial Niceness – the benefit being that one feels good as a result of it.