Probably One of the Best Compliments I Will Ever Receive

During a moment of personal distress, a good friend of mine called to calm me the fuck down, cheer me the fuck up, and overall restore homeostasis to my panic ridden brain. When he realized that I was pretty much over my personal drama and was mostly normal, he started questioning my possibly presenting at TEDTalks (which at this point in time was just a mild miscommunication). I explained how that rumor came to be and responded with “I don’t even know what I would talk about on stage for 20 minutes. I have no clue what I’d present”

He said “just go up there and present you. How and what you do that makes you, you. You have an educated heart and it is just part of you. I don’t think its something you’ve ever tried for.” “Um, educated heart?” And so he led me to Gelett Burgess. After some google-fu I was able to find what I believe to be the out-of-print essay that he was talking of. And here it is for you. I am completely astounded that someone feels this way about me, and I hope I can share that glow with others.



by Gelett Burgess

LAST OCTOBER I sent Crystabel a book. She acknowledged it, and promptly. But two months afterward she actually wrote me another letter, telling me what she thought of that book; and she proved, moreover, that she had read it. Now, I ask you, isn’t that a strange and beautiful experience in this careless world? Crystabel had the educated heart. To such as possess the educated heart thanks are something like mortgages, to be paid in installments. Why, after five years Crystabel often refers to a gift that has pleased her. It is the motive for a gift she cares for, not its value; and hence her gratefulness.

Everything can be done beautifully by the educated heart, from the lacing of a shoe so that it won’t come loose to passing the salt before it is asked for. If you say only “Good morning,” it can be done pleasingly. Observe how the polished actor says it, with that cheerful rising inflection. But the ordinary American growls it out with surly downward emphasis. Merely to speak distinctly is a great kindness, I consider. You never have to ask, “What did you say?” of the educated heart. On the other hand, very few people ever really listen with kindly attention. They are usually merely waiting for a chance to pounce upon you with their own narrative. Or if they do listen, is your story heard with real sympathy? Does the face really glow?

Consider the usual birthday gift or Christmas present. By universal practice it is carefully wrapped in a pretty paper and tied with ribbon. That package is symbolical of what all friendly acts should be–kindness performed with style. Then what is style in giving? Ah, the educated heart makes it a business to know what his friend really wants. One friend I have to whom I can’t express a taste that isn’t treasured up against need. I said once that I loved watercress, and lightly wished that I might have it for every meal. Never a meal had I at his table since, without finding watercress bought specially for me.

Do you think it’s easy, this business of giving? Verily, giving is as much an art as portrait painting or the making of glass flowers. And imagination can surely be brought to bear. Are you sailing for Brazil? It isn’t the basket of fine fruits that bring the tears to your eyes, nor the flowers with trailing yards of red ribbon–all that’s ordinary everyday kindness. It’s that little purse full of Brazilian currency, bills and small change all ready for you when you go ashore at Rio.

There was old Wentrose–he understood the Fourth Dimension of kindness, all right. Never a friend of his wife’s did he puffingly put aboard a streetcar, but he’d tuck apologetically into her hand the nickel fare to save her rummaging in her bag. Real elegance, the gesture of inherent nobility, I call that. Is it sufficient to offer your seat in a streetcar to a woman? The merely kind person does that. But he does it rather sheepishly. Isn’t your graciousness more cultured if you give it up with a bow, with a smile of willingness? Besides the quarter you give the beggar, can’t you give a few cents’ worth of yourself too?

The behavior of the educated heart becomes automatic: you set it in the direction of true kindness and courtesy and after a while it will function without deliberate thought. Such thoughtfulness, such consideration is not merely decorative. It is the very essence and evidence of sincerity. Without it all so-called kindness is merely titular and perfunctory. Suppose I submit your name for membership in a club. Have I done you (or my club) any real service unless I also do my best to see that you are elected? And so if I go to every member of the committee, if I urge all my friends to endorse you, that is merely the completion of my regard for you.

It is like salt– “It’s what makes potatoes taste bad, if you don’t put it on.” Must you dance with all the wallflowers, then? I don’t go so far as that, although it would prove that you had imagination enough to put yourself in another’s place. All I ask is that when you try to do a favor you do it to the full length of the rope. Don’t send your telegram in just ten carefully selected words. Economize elsewhere, but add those few extra phrases that make the reader perceive that you cared more for him than you did for the expense. No one with the educated heart ever approached a clergyman, or a celebrity, or a long-absent visitor with the shocking greeting:”You don’t remember me, do you?” No, he gives his name first. No one with the educated heart ever said, “Now do come and see me, sometime!” The educated heart’s way of putting it is apt to be, “How about coming next Wednesday?”

And strongly I doubt if the educated heart is ever tardy at an appointment. It knows that if only two minutes late a person has brought just that much less of himself. Truly nothing is so rare as the educated heart. And if you wonder why, just show a group picture–a banquet or a class photograph. What does every one of us first look at, talk about? Ourself. And that’s the reason why most hearts are so unlearned in kindness. If you want to enlarge that mystic organ whence flows true human kindness, you must cultivate your imagination. You must learn to put yourself in another’s place, think his thoughts. The educated heart, remember, does kindness ‘with style’.

Published in: on January 12, 2011 at 2:43 am  Leave a Comment  

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