The challenge of the modern world is far too much to speak of at a meeting. We are challenged by the modern world, and the modern world is modern to every generation, one after the other, at every moment of our life; but there are moments when it is worth reflecting on what a challenge is, and what kind of challenge we are facing. Every generation, I think, is faced with change; and change means, for the ones a degree of bewilderment because it means that things which were taken for granted in the past, which seemed to be so secure are gradually disintegrating or been questioned, and questioned in a decisive and very often in an aggressive way. For others change means uncertainty in another way; the younger enter into a world of change and do not know where it will lead. And so, both groups, the ones for whom the old world is disintegrating, disappearing, changing out of recognition, and the ones who live in a world that is in the making but whose shape they cannot understand, they cannot perceive, are equally challenged but in different ways. And I would like to present you with two or three images and my conclusions because all one can do with regard to one’s own life, is to share what one has learned or what one believes to be true.
The first image is this — or rather, before I give you the image — we all always expect that the right thing should be, that things should be harmonious, should be peaceful, unproblematic, that life should develop in the way in which a plant grows from a seed, protected, nursed, into a blade, and gradually into its fulfilment. And yet, we know from experience that it is not so. I believe that God is the God of the storm as much as the God of harmony and peace. And the first image, that comes to me is the story in the Gospel of Christ walking on the sea in the midst of a storm, the story which presents us with Peter trying to reach Him walking on the waves.
What happened there? Of course, leaving aside the historical moment of it, what can it say to us about it? The first thing, which I see in it is that the presence of Christ did not still the storm simply because He was there. And that, I think, is important; because very often, when we are caught up in a storm, great or small, we have a tendency to think that if there is a storm, then God isn’t there, that something has gone wrong — with God, usually, rather than with us. The second thing is that if God can be right in the middle of the storm and not be swayed, broken, destroyed, it means that He is at a point in the storm which is a point of equipoise; and in a hurricane, in a tornado, in any storm there is a point of equipoise, the point at which all the violence of the storm meets, all the conflicting violence meets — the eye of the hurricane; and that is where God is to be found. Not at outskirts, not where things are safe enough for Him to walk on dry land while we drown in the sea; but at the point where there can be no worse situation, where all the violence, all the conflict is there.
When we think of the story of Peter on the waters, we see that his impulse was right. He found himself in deathly danger, on a small skiff that could be drowned, broken to pieces by the waves, upturned by the winds. And he saw the Lord at the heart of the storm in His own wonderful stillness; and he knew that if he only could reach that point, he also would be right in the middle of the storm, yet in a stillness that was beyond imagining. And he proved ready to abandon the safety of the skiff, that was a very frail protection against the storm but still was a protection, — the other disciples were safe enough in it — and to move onto the storm. He did not reach the Lord, because he remembered that he could drown. He began to think of himself, of the storm, of the fact that he has never walked on the waves, he turned from God to himself and then he could no longer move Godwards. He had lost the security of the skiff, but not found the total security of the place where the Lord is.
And I think that when we think of ourselves in the modern world — and as I said before, the modern world is modern from generation to generation, there is no moment when the world is not the same storm only presenting itself in different guises to different generations we all are confronted with the same problem. There is a security in he small skiff. There is danger all around. There is the Lord at the heart, at the point of equipoise. and there is a question: am I prepared to walk across? This is the first question, and I am not going to unravel it for you more than I have done.
The second image that comes to my mind is that of the act of creation. The act of creation is described in the first line of the Bible in which we are told that God created the earth and the heavens — nothing more is said about it. And when we think of it, or rather, when I think of it, what I see, what I imagine is God, plenitude, harmony, beauty, calling by their name all the beings that could exist, calling, and everyone of the beings emerging out of nought, of total radical absence in primeval harmony and beauty, and the first thing they see is the ultimate and perfect beauty of God, the first thing they perceive is the total harmony of the Lord. And this harmony is called love, this beauty is called love, a dynamic, creative love which we express by speaking of the Trinity being the perfect image of a love-relationship.
But when we think of the next lines, or rather the second half of the same line, we see something which should make us reflect on our condition, because it says that the first call of God created what the Hebrew calls chaos, the tohu-bohu, (tohou oubohou), a chaos out of which He was calling forms, shapes, realities. The word used in the Bible for the first act of creation that brings about this chaos — and I will try to define it in a moment — and what comes next, is not the same. In the first place the word used is a word that indicates creation — the calling out of nought of what was not there; in the second place it speaks of fashioning out of existing material, as it were.
How, when we think of chaos, we always think of disorder, of a disorderly being; when we think of chaos in our room, we think of a room that should be orderly and which we have made into shambles. When we think of chaos wider in life and in the world, we can see of what happens to a city when it is bombed, a society of conflicting interests where love has gone dim or died and when there is nothing left but greed, self-centredness, fear, hatred and so forth. To us, chaos is a situation in which what should be harmonious is no longer harmonious, what should be harmonious is not in order; and our tendency is to put things in order, that is to give to every chaotic situation an orderly disposition and fix it. To use an image, again, for us to resolve the problem of the chaos of a raging sea would to freeze it down so that is becomes immobile — but this is not the way in which God deals with situations.
The chaos of which the Bible speaks in the first place, I think, is something different; it is all the potentialities, all the virtual reality which has not yet emerged into shape. We can speak in such terms about the intelligence, the perceptiveness, mind and heart, of a child. In that sense it is still a chaos, in the sense that it is all there, all is possible, nothing has yet unfolded; it is like a bud that contains all the beauty of the flower but which is still to open up, and if it doesn’t open up nothing will be revealed.
The primeval chaos of which the Bible speaks, I think, is that immeasurable, unfathomable complex of possibilities that contains all that can be — not only that could be, but all that can be, now and the future, a bud that can open up, expound forever. And the act which is described in the Bible as ‘fashioning’ the world, is an act by which God calls out one potentiality after the other, waiting for it to be mature, waiting for it to be ready to be born, and then giving it shape and launching into life and into reality. I think this is an important imagery because the world in which we live still is this kind of chaos, it is the creative chaos; it is the creative chaos which has not yet unfolded to the full, it is the creative chaos which continues to give birth to new and new realities, and each new reality, because it is new, is frightening to the old world. There is a problem of mutual understanding between generations; there is a problem in understanding the world of an epoch if you were born and reared in another one; you may be bewildered by what you see twenty or thirty years after your own maturity has been shaped. You may stand before a world which should be familiar because it is populated by your descendants, your friends — and yet, it is a world that has become practically incomprehensible. And again, the tendency which we have is to put it in order: this is what has been done by all dictatorships which took a world in the making, or a world that had collapsed into disorder, and gave it a shape, but a man-made shape, because we are afraid of the chaos, we are afraid of the unknown, we are afraid of looking into the dark abyss because we do not know what will emerge out of it and what we can do with it. What will happen to us if a shape comes up, some being comes up, some situations come up which we have no understanding of?
And this, I think, is the position in which we are all the time, from generation to generation, and even within our own lives. There are moments when we are afraid of what is happening to us, of what we are becoming ourselves. I do not mean that in the primitive sense in which one may be horrified at the way in which one deteriorates through drink, through drug, through the way in which we live or through outer conditions, — but through what is emerging within us, things which we have never suspected are there; and again, the easiest way, as it seems to us, is to suppress them, to try to destroy what is emerging and is frightening us. We are afraid of the creative chaos, we are afraid of the potentialities that are gradually emerging; and we try to resolve it by bringing things back, or fossilising them, by stabilizing them, by freezing them down.
Those people who are artists may well find a solution by projecting what is going on in them either in the form of painting, of sculpture, of music, of dramatic performance — but these people are the privileged ones, because an artist will, if he is a true artist, project onto his medium more than he is aware of; he will be able to see himself projected onto canvass or onto sound, or line, or colour, or form in a way in which he cannot see himself — it is a revelation of self; this is the principle that allows a psychologist to read a painting which the painter has projected without knowing what it was.
I remember one case; I am no reader of paintings, but I have in my experience one occasion that still surprises me, or rather, for which I have got a clue in what an old lady said [to me] about it. A young man came to me some thirty years ago with a big canvass like this, and said to me, ‘I was sent to you because such and such person thinks you can read this canvass for me’. I said, ‘Why?’ — ‘Well, I am under analysis, my analyst cannot read it, neither can I. But we have a common friend, who said, ‘You know, you are a complete crackpot, you must go to someone who is as mad as you are’ — and she sent him to me. I found it was very gratifying and so, I had a look at the painting — and I saw nothing. So, I asked him to leave the painting, and I lived with this painting for three or four days. And then I began to see something. And after that, every month I went to his place and looked at his paintings and read them for him until he began to read his own paintings freely, as one can read one’s own verse, or whatever one produces, with understanding.
That may happen to all of us at moments of our lives; we may be able to understand what a person is about more than this person at a given moment. We should be able to face our contemporary life exactly in such terms; God is not afraid of chaos, God is at the heart of it calling out of it reality, and a reality that will unfold with newness, which means in a frightening way, until all things are accomplished.
When I said that I believe that God is the Lord of harmony as well as the Lord of the storm, I meant perhaps something more, because the world in which we live is not the primeval chaos, pregnant with possibilities which not yet been unfolded are loaded with no evil, and have not gone wrong as it were. We live in a world in which what has come into being has been badly distorted. We live in a world of death, of suffering, of evil, of incompleteness, and there is in the world in which we live these two faces of the chaos: the primeval source of possibilities, the potential, and also the distorted reality. And this is what makes the problem more difficult, because we cannot be simply contemplative and look at what emerges out of nought or shapes gradually into greater and greater perfection, like a child in the womb that begins by being an embryo but must evolve into the completeness of a human being, or of an animal.
We are to face also the destruction, the evil, the distortion; and at that point we have got to play a role, and a very decisive one. One of the problems which I see, nowadays perhaps more than in my youth, and perhaps is it that growing old one feels that the past is more harmonious and more solid than the present, is that the challenge is not taken up; most people would like someone else to resolve the challenge. The believers, whenever a challenge, or a danger, or a tragedy occurs wish to run to God, and say, ‘Protect us, I am in trouble!’ The political animal will turn to the Government and say, ‘It is your business to put things right’. Other people will turn to philosophies, or to action. But one way or another we are not, I think, aware of the fact that each of us is called to take an active, intelligent part in resolving the problems which are ours.
Whatever we think philosophically, we are sent into this world, or placed into this world and whenever we perceive its disharmony or its ugliness, it is for us to look at it deeply and ask ourselves, ‘What can I contribute to its becoming truly harmonious?’ — not conveniently harmonious, not simply decent, not only liveable; because there are periods when before we come to a liveable situation we must go through periods which are not liveable at all, in a way in which surgery may be necessary or in which a clash, at times, like a thunderstorm, clears the air.
I believe that we are challenged by the present world in two ways; we must look at it instead of trying to avoiding seeing, and most of us, we would prefer not to see certain aspects of life because not seeing frees us from a great deal of responsibility, not to know that people are hungry, not to know that people are persecuted, not to know that people suffer and die in hospitals is an easy solution. It’s a fool’s paradise, but we are to a very great extent, all of us, fools, or we wish to be fools, because it would be so much more convenient, so much more easy to live if we could forget everything except what is good in my own life.
So, it requires a great deal more courage than we are prepared to afford most of the time; to look at tragedy, to allow ourselves, to receive this tragedy as a wound in our heart is important. The temptation is to avoid the wound by transforming pain into anger; because pain is, in a way, a passive situation in which it is inflicted on us, received by us, endured by us while anger is a reaction of mine: I can be cross, I can be angry, I can act — not much, certainly not to solve the problem, usually, because as one of the Epistles says, the anger of man does not re-establish the rightness meant by God. But it still remains that it is easy to be angry, it is very difficult to be offered to suffering. The ultimate image of this offering I see for instance, in Christ accepting His passion and His crucifixion as a gift of self.
The other thing is that it is not enough to face things, to perceive them, to accept the suffering; we are sent into this world to change it, and when I say ‘change’, I think of all ways in which the world can be changed, but least of all by, say, political or social readjustment. The first thing that must happen is a change in us that would allow us to be in harmony, and a harmony that could be projected outward, or spread. .
This, I believe, is more important than any change we can try to effect around us otherwise. When Christ says, that the Kingdom of God is within us, it means that unless we enthrone God within our life, if we have the mind of God, and the heart of God, and the will of God, and the vision of God, all that we will try to make, or to create will be disharmonious and incomplete to a certain degree. I do not mean to say that anyone of us can achieve this in its fullness; but to whatever degree this is achieved it spreads around us in terms of harmony, of beauty, of peace, of love, and changes things around us. An act of love, of sacrificial love does change things even for people who do not suspect it, do not immediately perceive it.
So that we must ask ourselves questions about our own ability to face things with courage; and courage always means the readiness to forget oneself and to look at the situation on the one hand, and the need of another, on the other hand. As long as we are self-centred, our courage will break down, because we will be afraid for our bodies, for our minds, for our emotions, and we will never be able to risk all, including life and death into the bargain. It is a question which we must ask ourselves all the time, because we are timid, cowardly, hesitant day in and day out; we are asked a question, and we skirt it and give an approximate answer because it is easier than to give a straight one; we should do something, and we think, ‘I will do that much of it and leave the rest for later’ — and so forth. And so, we must train ourselves to be the people who are sent into this world to bring into it harmony, beauty, truth, love.
Moffat, in a translation of the New Testament says, ‘We are a vanguard of Heaven’. We are people who must be aware of the divine scale of vision, and who are there to widen, deepen, brighten the scale of vision of all those around us. We are not called to be a society of people who enjoy their mutual acquaintance and are happy to hear one another saying wonderful things and wait for the next occasion to be together again. We are to be taken by the hand of God and sown into the wind and fall, wherever we can fall, set roots and bring out a blade — at a risk. Our vocation is to take part, with others, into the building of the City, a city of man, — yes, but this city must be coextensive with the City of God. Or, if you prefer, a city of man that would be so vast, so deep, so holy that one of its citizens could be Jesus Christ, the Son of God become Man. Anything shorter of this, anything smaller than this is not a City of Man worthy of men, I am not even saying ‘of God’; it is too small for us. But to do this we must accept the challenge, face it, face ourselves first, attain to the stillness and harmony which is needed, and either act from within this harmony, or shine out the light because we are called to be the light of the world.
Well, that is all I can say, and it is your turn now to awake and start…
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS.
Answer: No, I don’t think it’s too late because, for one thing, to say that anything is too late is to condemn oneself to being inactive, to give way, and to add to the rot. And for another thing, the world is remarkably young; I am not speaking of chimpanzees and dinosaurs, but speaking of humans: we are a very young race, we are really newcomers; we have done a lot of damage in the short time we have been here, but we are very young, all in all. And, as I can see, — you know, I am not a historian, but the little I know is that the world has gone continuously up and down through crises, through dark periods and light periods. And people of one generation, most of the time, feel that when things have gone back into a chaotic situation — it must be the end. Well, experience has told, should have told us that every time there is a re-emergence of some sort, and I do believe, well, that there is still time. I am no prophet in that respect, but I think, until I am dead, I will fight; when I die, it will no longer be may responsibility. But I am not going just to sit back and say, ‘I can’t understand the world now’, I will continue to say what I believe to be true, to try to share what I believe to be beautiful, and whatever the result in not my business.
Answer: I do believe that there will be a moment of dramatic collapse of all things, but I think we are not yet there. I remember, during the Russian revolution, at the period when contradictory meetings were allowed, someone, asked from a Christian preacher, a Baptist, whether he thought that Lenin was the Antichrist, and he answered, ‘No, he is far too small for that’. And I think that when I look round, I think that everyone whom certain people call the embodiment of evil, are far too small for that kind of imagery. I think we are not yet ready for ultimate tragedy. I am an optimist in that sense, because I am not afraid of the ultimate tragedy either.
Answer: Obviously, atom bombs and nuclear weapons and so on have introduced a dimension, quantitatively, a dimension which wasn’t there before; ill-will or accident are there. But, I can’t remember who said that what is decisive is not the fact that there are or are not nuclear weapons; what is decisive, is whether a person, or a group of people will be prepared to use them. And I think that is the important thing which I feel about it. Peace, security and so on are things that must begin within us and in our midst. We could stop the existence of all nuclear weapons and still wage a war of destruction and destroy one another to perfection; one can destroy life on earth without any nuclear weapons; one can create hunger that will destroy millions of people; one can kill with what one calls ‘normal’ weapons to an extent and a degree that could depopulate the planet. So the problem is in us and not in the weapon itself. You know, in the early centuries, Saint John Cassian, speaking of good and evil said that there are a few things which are good, a few things which are evil, but most of them are neutral. And he said, take a knife — it is completely neutral in itself; the only problem is: who has got the knife and how this knife will be used. And here, there is a point in us, human beings, treating the world in which we live with reverence, with respect, treating one another with respect, but it is not the presence of one form of destruction than the other, it’s the fear, the hatred, the greed within us that can do things.
Suggestion that nuclear weapons are not as neutral as a knife.
Answer: I don’t think that I am entitled to give an answer in any direction with any kind of authority. I remember a French novel in which a character was expressing his views with great energy, and his interlocutor said, ‘You say “my opinion” as this carpet could say “my place”’ — and that is really all I can do. I think that what you say about the nuclear energy was probably felt and said at different epochs about other things, when gunpowder was invented it was in a way as terrifying for the people at that moment as nuclear energy is for us. And, you know, I may be an extraordinary insensitive creature, but when I was fifteen or so I read with great passion the Stoics; and I remember reading in Epictetus a passage, in which he said, ‘There are two kinds of things; the things you can do something about, and those you can do nothing about. Those you can do something about — do something about; the other ones — forget about and leave them alone.’ And I may be like an ostrich that hides its head in the sand, but I simply live day in and day out without ever thinking of the fact that this world can be destroyed by nuclear energy, or that I can be ran over by a car, or that a burglar can come into the church; and what matters to me is really the mind of people who will or not act in one way or another. That is something which is within our reach, which can be done. To help people understand that compassion, that love matter is one thing. What worries me about so much of the peace campaigning, is that most of it is based on telling people: Do you see, how frightening it is? — it’s not because it is frightening, that is irrelevant; what is relevant is that it is loveless. It’s not cowardice that should make us peacemakers; it is another attitude to our neighbour. But then, if that is true, it doesn’t begin in a power-station, it begins at homes, it begins in the street, it begins in all sort of places. I remember during the war, in the very, very beginning, I came back from the Army, and there was a raid on Paris, and I went into a shelter. And there was a woman there who was speaking with great energy about the horrors of war; and she said, ‘Can one imagine, in our time, that monsters like Hitler could exist! People who don’t love their neighbour!.. If I had him, I would put pins in his body until he dies!’ — well, I feel that a lot of that is still there: if one could destroy the evil-doer! But the moment you destroy the evil-doer, you have done something as destructive, because it’s not quantity, it’s what you have done that counts.
You know, there is another thing, a story also from a French novelist about a man who had been on the Pacific Islands, and learned there incantation and magic that gave life to what was still capable of life but had been smothered. He comes back to France, byes a minute plot of land which is all stone and barren earth, and sings love into it, and all this land begins to give birth to vegetation, to beauty, to plants, and all the animals around begin to come and live there in friendship and as a society. There is only one beastly creature, that doesn’t come — it is the fox. And this man, Monsieur Cyprien, is heartbroken: this poor fox that doesn’t know how happy he could be in the newly restored paradise; so he calls him, he calls him — but the fox doesn’t come! Moreover, this fox, from time to time steals a paradisiac hen, and chicken, and eats it! So, instead of being full of compassion, he begins to be impatient. And then a thought comes to him: if there was no fox, paradise will be universal — and he kills the fox. And when he comes back to his plot of paradise, all the plants have withered, and all the animals have gone.
I think it’s a lesson for us in that respect, it is something which happens to us, within us. I do not mean to say that I am indifferent to what happens in an accident, nuclear or other, but this is not the ultimate evil, the ultimate evil is in the person’s heart.
Question: on whether or not things are neutral…
Answer: I don’t think that I am so naive as to think that fright is only subjective and a failure of faith. I think there is something frightening in everything that can destroy, destroy human bodies, I mean the world in which we live including us, or destroy people morally. But I think that in the course of history we have been confronted with a lot of frightening things which we have learned to tame; fire is one, flood is another one, lightening is another one, a variety of illnesses, say the plague, small-pox, within the last decades — TB. When I was a medical student there were wards of dying people from tuberculosis, now it’s considered as a mild disease on the whole, it’s curable, and so forth. And I think our role is to be tamers; we will be confronted by terrors, either man-made or which exist in nature, and our problem is to learn how to face then, how to tame them, how to control them, and eventually how to use them. Well, even small-pox have been used for vaccination; fire is used in so many ways, water is used in so many ways, they have been subdued. There are moments when human carelessness forgets our role of tamers and then tragedies occur. But even if you let go of man-made terrors there will be enough terrors to tame. Obviously, say, a thing like nuclear power is more frightening, I would say, not so much because it can kill, because this is a neat ending, but what it can do to the periphery. This is something which must make mankind intensely aware of its responsibility; and I think this is the kind of challenge which mankind must face because it’s a moral one, and it cannot be resolved by not having nuclear power, because the problem is not solved then. We belong to a time when a sense of responsibility has become very dim, on the whole. Well, here we are confronted with something, we are told, ‘Are you responsible? Are you prepared to take responsibility? Or are you prepared to kill your own people and other people?’ And I think, if we take it as a challenge in that respect, we will take it extremely seriously, in the same way in which, so many hundreds years ago, people had to face the question of fire; when they did not know how to make fire but they knew how fire could burn their habitations and destroy all things around them; or water, and so forth. But I am really speaking as the man whom I mentioned, who says ‘my opinion’ in the same way in which a carpet says ‘my place’.
Answer: You know, I find a difficulty in that because I am not sure that I ever got out of the boat! But if I try to imagine things, we must be prepared in life to let go of everything that seems to be safety, security and protection, and to be faced with all the complexity and, at times, horror of life. It doesn’t mean doing it actively, but be prepared not to hide behind the shield, not to climb into a boat, not to take refuge into a sanctuary, and so forth, but to stand up and face things. The second thing is that inevitably, the moment we loose the security which was ours, we will walk for a while with a sense of elation, if only because we’ll feel that we are heroes. You know, what virtue cannot do, vanity will help us do. But vanity doesn’t allow us to go very far. There will be a moment when we will feel that we are on unsafe ground; and we may either by an act of determination, say ‘I have taken an option, and however terrified I be, I will go on.’ This happens, say, in the war when you volunteer to do something and then find yourself in the dark, in the cold, hungry, with rain falling on you, mud all around you, and danger lurking in the darkness around you, and you wish you were still in safety, but you may either desert, or say, ‘I have taken a decision and I abide by it’. You may collapse, and there is nothing dishonourable in collapsing in the sense that no one of us is a patented hero. But then it comes because we remember what can happen to us, instead of thinking of the purpose of the action, or the direction, or the movement. And we can help ourselves by reminding ourselves of the importance, the significance of what we were aiming at; and the fact that I, my life, my physical integrity or my happiness are really very small compared to the great thing. I can give you just an example: I taught in the Russian school in Paris, and in one of the lower forms there was a girl who during the war went to Yugoslavia where her family was. She was no extraordinary girl, she was a girl like so many others: a nice, good, wholesome person. During a bombing in Belgrade the house in which she lived with her parents and other tenants collapsed; everyone escaped; but when they began to look round they saw that an old woman, an old, crippled woman had not been able to escape. She did not think, she walked into the fire and never came back, because the impulse, the thought that this woman cannot be allowed to die burnt alive was stronger than her instinct to save her own skin. She did not allow between the thought that was the right, courageous thought, and the action, she did not allow that little space that allows us all the time to say, ‘And perhaps it’s not necessary.’ So, between the thought and the action there should be no space.
Then, in the story of Peter there is one encouraging feature; it’s when he began to drown and became aware of his frailty, of his fear, of his lack of faith, of his remembering himself more than he remembered Christ Whom he loved, and Whom he denied later all the same, in spite of his love that was true, — he shouted, he said, ‘Help!’ and then he found himself on the shore. And I think that we cannot expect just to say, ‘I will walk out of the boat, walk on the waves, reach the eye the hurricane, and be saved’. We must be prepared to take the step and to walk on that sea which is full of danger, and if you think of the sea in terms of human beings, you will find yourself surrounded by danger, greater or smaller in one way or another. And there will be moments when you will say, ‘I can’t face it any more, I must seek for some sort of support or protection’ — and you must do it because if you say, ‘No, I will be a hero to the last’, you may well break down. So you must have the humility of saying, ‘No, that’s all I can do, alas, alas!’ — but at that moment you will be saved because of your humility.
Answer: When I read philosophy in Paris for a year, which is not much, I remember the first lecture I heard in which our lecturer said, ‘Philosophy is a reflection on life destined to teach us how to live better’. I think, to me it meant a great deal; a philosophy is not a way of building systems or inventing a world vision; it’s a deep reflection on what life is, the way in which ancient Greek philosophy developed: looking at life and trying to understand. But understanding does not imply only seeing the negative features and determining to change them by force or by convincing people. It means also that one must be aware of the possible and the impossible, of the timely and untimely. What I feel always goes wrong with revolutions is that someone says, ‘My vision is right, my opinion is right, and you will jolly well be happy the way I tell you’ — and this is where bones begin to be broken, because it is not everyone who is prepared either to share your view or to be re-shaped in one way or another. So that to me this phrase is not quite just in the sense that it does not allow for a realistic, very deep vision into life; to me, you see, the attitude of both the philosopher or the man of action is very much the attitude of the physician with regard to a sick person. One looks at a person, one assesses all that is wrong, but one assesses all also that can be done and all that is right. And at times one says, ‘ That amount can be done, more cannot be done’; in a way, mechanically at times one could do more, say, if a person is a hunchback, one can put the back right by cracking it; the fact that the person will be paralysed afterwards is a by-product which you can ignore, you were asked to put the back right. But I feel that very often revolutionaries reason in that particular way: ‘it must be this way because I know it better than you’. The trouble is that it is not a philosophical approach, it’s not even a thoughtful human approach; it’s an approach which we should by now have outgrown by experience of what revolutions have done throughout history, when it was violence applied to people, in order to force them into systems which were thought by a minority, — or even a majority, — to be the best possible way of living.
Answer: I don’t know what I could say to that; I am not sure I know any answer to this, but I think that when things go wrong, become darker and darker, the darkness becomes more obvious. But then I think also that a lesser number of people are prepared to stand up and be counted. In extreme situations the darkness, the evil becomes more obvious, but it becomes also more dangerous to stand against it. And then it is really a question of the small remnant having to face a tragedy which is even more acute than it was before when it was rampant. You know, it’s very difficult to stand alone against even a small group of people even if you are absolutely sure that what is being done or said is pure darkness, evil. On the other hand, if you do, there are two possibilities: you may be destroyed, and you must be prepared for it; or you may call out a response from people whom you didn’t expect to respond, and discover that an act of courage, a word of courage has given courage to people who were on the brink.