Monday, June 13, 2011

Law 6: Charity - Inclined to Think Favorably of Others

Making Monday

A man driving along a little-used country road at dusk got a flat tire. He swore when he opened the trunk and discovered his jack was missing. As he walked back to the nearest farm house he grumbled about the inconvenience and how it would soon be too dark to fix the flat anyway and how the farmer was probably already asleep and would curse him for waking the family. And by the time he reached the farmhouse, he'd worked himself up into such a state that he charged up the porch, hammered on the door, and, when the farmer answered, shouted, "I don't want your damn jack!"

Prejudice is a word we generally understand in terms of race and social relations. But it is, simply, "An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts,"

Charity, in the sense of, "inclined to think favorably of others," and, "liberality in judging men," is an important part of the antidote to prejudice.

There is a very rough inverse correlation between prejudice and progress in arts and techniques. It is difficult for us to understand the radical change in human affairs brought about by the doctrine that people, even suspected criminals, are innocent until proven guilty. For a very long time people organized their world in terms of exclusive categories where entire classes of people could do no good. They approached the world of what could be made in similar terms.

That kind of thinking walls off all but a tiny portion of the universe of possibilities. Early English mariners reported that there were unicorns in Florida because the natives told them there were lions and everyone knows that lions and unicorns are natural enemies. Because of their categorical thinking (and the fact that they were a bit short on time because they didn't want to get caught by the Spanish) they missed the far more fantastic flora and fauna that actually live there.

Makers must forswear the luxury of prejudice because the only way to succeed at making is to approach the thing or project on its own terms. Whether a block of wood or a story idea, true makers don't impose their preconceptions on the subject: they enter into a kind of relationship with the subject in order to discover and express its particular potential.

This is extremely important during the early phases when everything you do with your subject seems to take it farther from what you thought it might become. Patience is clearly part of the equation, but charity, in the sense of, "inclined to think favorably" by not prejudging is fundamental. It's the one thing that keeps us from damn-jacking the project when we get frustrated.

Image: Bill Longshaw /


  1. I think it's inherent that as a writer my first thought to any project is -- will it be good enough? And by the time I hit 50k I figure, if it's not, then too bad. It's my creation and it's good enough for me.

    Damn-jacking is a very good term.

  2. There's an important difference between a motivating worry that a project might not be good enough and throwing in the towel because we'll never be good enough.

    As for damn-jacking, it became part of our domestic lexicon after we heard the story. Now we pause for thought if someone observes we're carrying a damn jack.

  3. This is a great post, not just about how to approach our writing, but about how to approach life and treat people. Thanks.


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