I’ve been reading a lot about humanism this week; mainly about Niccolò Machiavelli’s take on it versus Lorenzo de’ Medici’s. Lorenzo believed that anything was possible and, therefore, worth trying, but Machiavelli took this another way: if anything was possible, anything was permitted. He acknowledged that cold calculation and bold movements had more successful outcomes than noble gestures. Not surprising, really. Machiavelli nailed the human condition and, heartbreakingly, I’ve recognised it far too often in the past few weeks.
In truth, I’ve lost count of the number of stories I’ve heard in the past ten days alone. From those that seem very small – customers being inexplicably rude to staff trying to do their jobs while enforcing coronavirus precautions; strangers berating each other over things that last a fraction of a second, like stopping abruptly in the middle of the street and almost banging into them – to much bigger things – old wounds being reopened by third parties just to watch someone bleed; people accusing others of taking advantage as they, themselves, did – and don’t even get me started on politicians no longer bothering to hide their corruptness. Some of these stories have been cold, some calculated, some so bold they make you weary of the future.
For a second, I allowed myself to blame COVID-19. The fear of uncertainty and an enemy we cannot see, the grief we feel for the lives we were living last year. Add in the people currently in seats of power, and no wonder we’re all acting so horribly toward each other. But maybe what’s really happening is that more people see the world through the same eyes as Machiavelli than I would have hoped.
To be frank, I think I would have gotten along better with Lorenzo de’ Medici and his cohort – creative expressions of humanism rather than the focus on the human condition. Not that I have anything against Machiavelli – I admire him, honestly, but would I really trade in the ability to see the beauty in everything, the belief that we can achieve something better in this world rather than waiting to die to find it? Honestly, there are moments I wish I would.
But I can’t.
After a particularly bad moment this week, I cried down the phone to a friend. I told her I wished I could be one of those people who didn’t trust people, who could be hard-hearted enough to say “I’m sorry you’re going through problems but that’s not my problem” instead of trying to help. Her reply was simple: “But that’s not you…”
That comment made me look at myself for who I am. That I believe things will get better, always. That it all happens for a reason. I have to, otherwise that darkest part in me that is always telling me I should just end it and save myself – and everyone around me – the bother, will surface, will grow stronger, and I’ve had enough of that part of me. Anything is possible and, therefore, worth trying. But NOT everything is permitted.
Still, that won’t stop other people…
Maybe this is the universe telling me something even simpler than Machiavelli and Lorenzo de’ Medici’s views of the world. Maybe it’s telling me to adopt Keanu Reeves’ attitude instead…
“I’m at that stage of my life where I keep myself out of arguments. Even if you tell me 1+1=5, you’re absolutely correct. Enjoy.”
1+1=5, did you say?