Human Condition

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How do we manage what are heart leads us to do and our heads warn us not to? To Richard Friedlander, the answer is in the human condition.

“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses.” Henry Miller.

When I want to say or do something that springs from my heart, too often I run it through my mind, and the moment passes. It could be something as simple and frequent as seeing a person in need on the street. I reach into my pocket and lackadaisically grope for some change. On not finding any, I consider parting with a dollar  maybe more  and all the while, I keep walking. I come up with reasons for why I didn’t do it. Extracting my wallet in the street could be dangerous. If I give to one, I have to give to all. The money would only go for drinks or drugs. Besides, I contribute to charities, and a lot more than a dollar.

I take a deep breath and vow to do better the next time. And the next. And when I finally do  not out of compassion but to appease my nagging conscience  I tell myself what a fine fellow I am and adversely judge the next person to bypasses my should-be-grateful beneficiary. And this completes the turning of my good deed on its head. Which it should, because if it came from the heart, I wouldn’t think; I’d just do it. They asked. I gave. End of story.

Debating before declaring your love can lead you down the same path. So can ignoring an urge to express appreciation. There are many other situations in which the mind would perform better service by getting out of the way. In writing the first draft of a novel. In unabashedly speaking the nonsense to babies and pets that they understand because it comes from the heart. Think of the stranger who drove from North Carolina to Utah to reunite a sick boy with his dog, who said, “I never questioned why I was doing it.”


Impulses are not always good, like doing potentially harmful things without considering the consequences. To give heart and mind their rightful domains isn’t easy. So when Miller says that we slaughter our finest impulses, he is not proposing a cure-all, just remarking on the human condition.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is an author and mediator in the East Bay.