The Secret Files
The Hollow Mountain
Evil & Pity
The epigraph was from Dostoevsky:
'Man, man, one cannot live quite without pity.' I put the book down and looked out of the window again. One cannot live quite without pity.
Surely that was the key to understanding human hatred. Hatred was an absence of pity. Graham Greene had said something like it. When you looked at other men and women, 'you could always begin to feel pity. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.' i That is true, but it is pity that does the imagining. Pity is sorrow at another's sorrow, pain at another's pain. To feel another's sorrow!
That has to be the way out of the predicament of human hatred. Pity!
Yet it is a word some despise. And not just revolutionaries and ideologues for whom pity is always treason, because it blunts the edge of cruelty, their chosen weapon. Pity is despised because it is seen as demeaning to the one pitied. Poor little sufferer! How I pity her! But that is not the tone of real pity. Pity is an identification with the other so profound that you enter her sorrow, even if she is someone you have been taught to despise. It is this that makes pity the antidote to evil.
In spite of its colourful reputation, evil is an absence, a deprivation,
the lack of something, a great emptiness.
Extract from 'Leaving Alexandria, a memoir of Faith and Doubt'
by Richard Holloway (Edinburgh - London, 2012)
- Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory (Vintage, London, 2001)