Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ernest Hello on the Spirit of Contradiction

As long as I can remember, I have noticed that men are continually disputing together, and doubtless you too have noticed it. Universal contradiction is a universal fact. Division covers the earth. It is not between enemies that we find the deepest division; it is between friends....

The intellectual condition of the human race is a masterpiece of division....

The fact is, there is in the world a monster called the Spirit of Contradiction.

Everything I consider in the world, I can consider under several aspects, and so can you. Paul sees a thing on a certain side; it looks to him white. Peter sees the same thing on the other side; it looks to him black. Both are right, both are wrong, for the thing is white on one side and black on the other. "It is white!" cries Paul. "It is black!" cries Peter. And behold two enemies! The Spirit of Contradiction shuts their eyes and embitters their hearts and blinds and separates their souls.... They were two intelligent men, made to understand each other. Now they are two enemies, stupidly obstinate, stupidly blind, all because the Serpent of Contradiction has raised his head between them....

If Peter is to show Paul to any good purpose the black side which he sees, he must first perceive as clearly as Paul the white side which Paul sees, and he must tell him so. If he does not frankly tell him so, each will hopelessly entrench himself behind his individual point of view.

This is why kindness of heart has such an immense role to play in the reconciliation of minds. If you are irritated with your enemy, who perhaps, after all, is your friend, you will never convince him.... I have seen clearly that the Spirit of Contradiction is Satan himself, the father of all lies.

Father Faber holds that we shall never convince a man unless we first prove to him that we have thoroughly grasped all his objections and entered into his point of view. Nothing is more true.

Father Faber also says that there is one thing in the world which can never, in any case, do any good. This unique thing is sarcasm. You have an antagonist. Laugh at his point of view: he will never see yours. Never! You have shut off from this man the sources of Life. Father Faber further says that if a man were suddenly to begin to look with friendship on all other men, and to put a favorable construction on their conduct, this man would find existence as completely altered as if he had been transported to another planet....

St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi adopted the following for her rule of life: Never refuse anybody anything, unless it be an absolute impossibility to grant it. Here is the spirit which is the exact opposite to the Spirit of Contradiction.

The experience of centuries teaches that men need consoling first, instructing afterwards. They do not understand the instruction until they have received the consolation. The Spirit of Contradiction violates this law. It will begin by speaking of the cause of irritation; it puts the obstacle in the foreground. It sets out by a reproach. It irritates before it tries to pacify. That is why its teaching is sterile and fatal, even were it a hundred times in the right. Begin with argument, and all will be sterile. Begin with love, and all will be fertile.

The Spirit of Contradiction resides in the soul and gives the man who speaks a certain tone.... Tone indicates the attitude of the mind. The tone is more important than the words used. Let us suppose that Father Faber's hypothesis has been realized, and that this very day men have adopted kindness as the principle of all their actions.... We shall be astounded if we one day see the small proportions to which [our differences] are reduced.


Source: Ernest Hello, Life, Science, and Art, trans. by E. M. Walker (London: R. & T. Washbourne, 1912), 73–78.

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