In ancient meditations on Hell, Plato and Aristotle were subjected to a devastating sentence: “Woe to you if you are praised where you are not and tormented where you are”. In other words, these geniuses of philosophy were applauded in the Universities and suffered in Hell.
Besides the foolishness of condemning the two incomparable Masters to perdition – there were also those who raised them to the pinnacles of heaven – the maxim translates well the comedy of daily life. A governor, an architect, a public manager, an educator, in the place where they are, in the function they perform, are rarely recognised as values, and even less praised. It is true that sometimes roses and incense are thrown at them, but as soon as they are seen far away, they are riddled with bullets. The tributes paid to the deceased do not compensate for the rotten eggs and slanders thrown at them during their lives.
I love this mania, or simply bad taste, that humans have for closing their eyes to beauty and virtue in order to open them to half a dozen disgusting things. One notices more a couple of weeds lurking in the middle of the garden than the wonder of the flowerbeds. If after a match well managed for ninety minutes the referee does not see an offside, here is the king who is a thief and the son of such a mother. A citizen is killed serving the Homeland and giving himself up for his fellow man, but this heroism remains hidden, while all eyes are focused on the result of a small mistake.
On the façade of the University of Salamanca chapel, the sculptor has placed a small frog high up, almost unnoticed among the stone lacework. One day while the guide was showing it to a group of tourists, Miguel de Unamuno passes by and rightly comments: “It’s bad not to see the frog. But what is worse is to see only the frog”.
In fact, elegance and charity dictate that we should look at the masterpiece as a whole and not just look at the frog, the whim, the insignificant detail.
It is even more inelegant to look at one’s neighbour from the wrong angle. Human beings, like stained-glass windows, when looked at in the right way, constitute beautiful, colourful, fascinating images; but they are nothing but a heap of disconnected, greyish streaks when looked at upside down.
In the midst of darkness – someone said – stars always twinkle for those who have eyes to see the firmament; in a devastated field a flower will always sprout for those who know how to contemplate.
The world would be happy if the words “envy” and “compete” were replaced by “appreciate”, “applaud”, “magnify”. Feeling a favourable opinion helps us to continue climbing, multiplies our energies and considerably increases the probabilities of success.
How many inventions have been set in motion by the sympathy of those who have known how to discover, in the imperfect sketch or embryo, the work of art or the germ of a daring creation!
As a good friend of mine observes, you do not pick up a sick person by the part of the body that is injured; nor do you rebuild a building from the crumbling wall, but begin where there is firmness, stability and security.
We must imitate mothers: with a slap they correct their son, washing him of his guilt; but then comes the kiss, which heals and revives.
We can only gain by this magnanimous attitude towards our fellow human beings. For whoever turns on a light is the first to benefit from its brightness. And the light that shines on one, shines on a hundred or a thousand.
Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf