On being kind not cruel

Remember Gwen Bell? Social media guru? I wrote an embarrassingly mean-spirited post about her blog back in January? (I don’t know what was bugging me that day, but whatever it was it had my misanthropy turned up to 11).

Anyhow… this month Gwen has been running “The best of 2009 blog challenge“, inviting bloggers to reflect on the year just past, and nominate their favourites in various categories, one each day.

I’m usually no good at posting to a deadline like this, due to my almost complete lack of self-discipline, but it just so happens that today’s prompt is “Book”, and I was just thinking today of something that I read a few months ago, which struck me at the time as especially memorable.

It’s a passage from Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, first published in 1966, and the book that made Thompson’s name, though the style is much more straight reportage than the gonzo journalism he is famous for. It’s a solid piece of work, humanising the Angels and locating the moral panic that grew up around them in the context of social change in 60’s America, without ever losing sight of the fact that they always had the potential to act in seriously unpleasant ways.

The bit that sticks in my mind wasn’t written by Thompson himself (though he does provide many quotable lines), but by Allen Ginsberg, part of an speech he gave in 1965, in which he tried (successfully as it turned out) to dissuade the Angels from carrying out their threat to attack a march against the then-raging Vietnam war:

To take the heat off, you’ve got
to take the heat off
INSIDE YOURSELVES –
Find Peace means stop hating yourself
stop hating people who hate you
stop reflecting HEAT
THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT HEAT
THE MOST OF PEACE MARCHERS ARE NOT HEAT
They want you to join them to relieve
the heat on you & on all of us.

Take the heat – Anxiety Paranoia –
off us, AND off the police, off all the fearful –
REASSURE, and act clearly in such a way
as to reassure –
by being kind not
cruel –
and it’ll be remembered and responded to.

Ginsberg’s plea has been rendered no less urgent by the passage of four decades. I can’t pretend to myself that I’ll be able to live by his words, but I’ll try to recall them when I’m blogging, and my Anxiety Paranoia is getting a little out of control.

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