© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.

I think most nonreligious parents would really enjoy the first two chapters of The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (“Childhood” and “Adolescence”). Among other things, this section recounts his transition from a Christian upbringing to agnostic atheism.

Bertrand Russell portrait by Memnoch-Plopk, Deviantart

But another passage much later in the book would have been worth reading the whole thing just to find:

Ever since puberty I have believed in the value of two things: kindness and clear thinking. At first these two remained more or less distinct; when I felt triumphant I believed most in clear thinking, and in the opposite mood I believed most in kindness. (vol 2, p. 232)

Nonreligious folks are not unkind. Many are the gentlest and kindest people I know. But in our meetings and conferences and blogs and social media, we sometimes overlook the topic of human emotional needs. We focus instead on the need for clear thinking — until we are feeling “the opposite of triumphant” and find ourselves, as individuals, hoping for a kind word or thought or deed. Russell’s first value rushes in.

As a parent, I find myself more upset by the unkindnesses my children do than by any fuzziness of thought. And I find it harder to forgive my own lapses in the former than in the latter.

Kurt Vonnegut circled around the same idea in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. The protagonist is asked to say a few words for the baptism of his neighbor’s twins. What do you say to welcome new lives into the world? Here’s what Vonnegut found fitting:

Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.




This was written on Sunday, 14. October 2018 at 07:38 and was filed under critical thinking, kindness, morality, values. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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Comments »

  1. As always, thanks for writing Dale.

    Comment: blotzphoto – 11. June 2012 @ 8:51 am

  2. Hi Dale, I am a new reader and as a parent of two, I am greatly appreciating your words.

    I will certainly check this out.

    I am guessing you have addressed this issue, but how have you dealt with your kids being friends with kids of very religious neighbors? They seem to be a wonderful family, but also very religious. We don’t want our kids (7 and 4) getting confused, causing a stir by asking questions, or offending their family by voicing our secular views too loudly/strongly. I actually told my 7 yr old what to do (just bow your head and be quiet) if they prayed at the dinner table bc they invited him over for a meal and I suspect they are a into praying.

    What do you suggest? Perhaps you can refer me to a past post on this topic.

    Thanks so much.

    Comment: klickityklack – 21. June 2012 @ 4:05 pm

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