"'We are both boulder-pushers.' This is his phrase for what he sees as his own failure. His fight to get out of his poor background, to win scholarships, to get the highest medical degrees, came out of an ambition to be a creative scientist. But he knows now he will never be this original scientist. And this defect has been partly caused by what is best in him, his abiding, tireless compassion for the poor, the ignorant, the sick. He has always, at a point when he should have chosen the library or the laboratory, chosen the weak instead. He will never now be a discoverer or a blazer of new paths. He has become a man who fights a middle-class, reactionary medical superintendent who wants to keep his wards locked and his patients in straitjackets. 'You and I, Ella, we are the failures. We spend our lives fighting to get people very slightly more stupid than ourselves to accept the truths that the great men have always known. They have known for thousands of years that a poor man who is frightened of his landlord and of the police is a slave. They have known it. We know it. But do the great enlightened mass of the British people know it? No. It is our task, Ella, yours and mine, to tell them. Because the great men are too great to be bothered. They are already discovering how to colonize Venus and to irrigate the moon. That is what is important for our time. You and I are the boulder-pushers. All our lives, you and I, we'll put all our energies, all our talents, into pushing a great boulder up a mountain. The boulder is the truth that the great men know by instinct, and the mountain is the stupidity of mankind.'" Doris Lessing, the Golden Notebook, page 195-196.
"What is terrible is that after every one of the phases of my life is finished, I am left with no more than some banal commonplace that everyone knows: in this case, that women's emotions are all still fitted for a kind of society that no longer exists. My deep emotions, my real ones, are to do with my relationship with a man. One man. But I don't live that kind of life, and I know few women who do. So what I feel is irrelevant and silly... I am always coming to the conclusion that my real emotions are foolish, I am always having, as it were, to cancel myself out. I ought to be like a man, caring more for my work than for people; I ought to put my work first, and take men as they come, or find an ordinary comfortable man for bread and butter reasons - but I won't do it, I can't be like that..." Doris Lessing, the Golden Notebook, page 283.
Ideas and actions
My friends were over for dinner and we were discussing whether we have a moral duty to help others, others who are less fortunate than ourselves. One of them suggested that big principles won't translate into action. Actions spring not from ideas or opinions but somewhere else, from a well of emotion. It may be years before grand theories spark up emotions. Everybody likes the idea of performing noble acts. How many of us are actually pushing the boulder?
That is why religions manipulated fear and guilt to motivate people into doing the "right thing". That's how magnificent churches were built. Aren't most of our actions (and inactions) still driven by fear and guilt? Maybe that is why it is so difficult to create a secular morality, it is so difficult to get people to feel and do anything. They tell us people are suffering, women are being trafficked, climate change will bring disaster if we don't care - they sound like a false alarm, we just look at them and wonder what's in all this for them. Are we supposed to respect them for their grasp of the truth and high moral sense? And mind you, if there's anything in it for them, we will feel much better because we won't have to question ourselves and change our behavior.
One of my friends says how important it is to live up to your principles, matching action with ideas. But are we those people, do we possess the emotional energy to back up our ideals?
So maybe the only way to understand who we are is to look at what we do, and what we don't.