Simone Weil: Pride

Simone Weil
Simone Weil

A few years ago I invited a friend of mine to my birthday party. I’d regularly attended events he’d invited me to, either as company or moral support or whatever. He agreed to come, but an hour or so before the party was due to begin he called me to say that he was ill and that he’d have to give it a miss. Now, it just so happened that I knew for a fact that on this same evening his girlfriend had been given the night off work; moreover, I’d seen him just the day before and he’d been on top form. I told him it was fine – no worries. But the second I put the phone down I began with the abuse: “Lying bastard.” (Notice that his dishonesty was never doubted.)

Two days later the lads and I were due to go out to watch a gig which a friend of ours was playing at a local bar. I received a text message that morning from the guy who’d missed the party, saying ‘Sorry I couldn’t make it on Saturday. How was it in the end?’ I was still annoyed. I wasn’t going to be taken for a fool! So I suggested to my girlfriend that I send a text message back with something like: ‘Yeah, was ok. I guess you won’t be coming out tonight because of your illness.’ Two can play at that old game. My girlfriend suggested I was being pathetic; I suggested I wasn’t. This guy thought he could just lie to me and that I would accept it!

Philosopher, Mystic, Agitator
Philosopher, Mystic, Agitator

In the end, however, I never sent the message. But the dynamics of the situation still haunt me. I knew he was lying, and he probably knew that I knew – but I needed him to know! I needed him to feel that I knew, that I wasn’t some gullible loser. I needed him, in some sense, to be reduced, to become smaller than me. So, I was surprised, then, when I read the following in a book by Simone Weil:

“To harm a person is to receive something from him. What? What have we gained (and will have to be repaid) when we have done harm? We have gained in importance. We have expanded. We have filled an emptiness in ourselves by creating one in somebody else.”[1]

Of course, my friend’s not coming to my birthday party was trivial and understandable (not to mention that I’d done the same thing to other people on many occasions!), but it produced in me a tiny wound: I’d been cheated in some way, I’d been abandoned and left alone. But this tiniest of wounds made me want to expand until my magnitude engulfed him, until he felt the emptiness he’d made me feel. So what should I have done? Just said nothing and accepted it, or something more dramatic? I leave you with these words of Simone Weil, ones I don’t think I shall ever live up to:

“It is impossible to forgive whoever has done us harm, if that harm has lowered us. We have to think that it has not lowered us, but has revealed our true level.”

[1] Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, trans. Arthur Wills, p. 50.


2 thoughts on “Simone Weil: Pride

  1. novelfootsteps says:

    Hi, nice to find someone else who has read a bit of Simone Weil.

    I am a bit of Weilian but the more I have tried to follow her saintly lead (I leave aside the issue of her much debated position on Nazis and Jews) the more it seems impossible.

    For example, Weil advocates stoicism – but, as I have found to my cost, unless you really are a saint, trying to suppress emotions is a recipe for building up towards a violent outburst.

    Increasingly, it seems as if Weil’s words are aspirational and certainly to be taken very seriously but to the letter – I’m not sure.

  2. novelfootsteps says:

    Sorry, just to add, I certainly think that in your case, it is wrong to try to get your own back.

    However, what we have to accept is, the more magnanimous you try to be, the more people will take advantage.

    Regarding dodging parties, it’s no big deal. But, for example, in a case of bullying, it could be a dangerous policy to decide to “absorb” the hurt because this might only heighten the seriousness of the bullying.

    Herein lies the problem with Weil’s approach. When is self-defence permissible? When it is necessary? But when is that?

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