The Case of Charlie Gordon
Flowers for Algernon is a curious, subtle, yet powerful book. The novel follows the life of Charlie Gordon, a 32-year-old man born with an unusually low IQ who undergoes a "smart" operation.
|Charlie and Algernon|
There's a passage in the book which I was particularly struck by. It goes like this:
"You've become cynical," said Nemur. "That's all this opportunity has meant to you. Your genius has destroyed your faith in the world and in your fellow men."
"That's not completely true," I [Charlie Gordon] said softly. "But I've learned that intelligence alone doesn't mean a damned thing. Here in your university, intelligence, education, knowledge, have all become great idols. But I know now there's one thing you've all overlooked: intelligence and education that hasn't been tempered by human affection isn't worth a damn."
I helped myself to another martini from the nearby sideboard and continued my sermon.
"Don't misunderstand me," I said. "Intelligence is one of the greatest human gifts. But all too often a search for knowledge drives out the search for love. This is something else I've discovered for myself very recently. I present it to you as a hypothesis: Intelligence without the ability to give and receive affection leads to mental and moral breakdown, to neurosis, and possibly even psychosis. And I say that the mind absorbed in and involved in itself as a self-centered end, to the exclusion of human relationships, can only lead to violence and pain.
"When I was retarded I had lots of friends. Now I have no one. Oh, I know lots of people. Lots and lots of people. But I don't have any real friends. Not like I used to have in the bakery. Not a friend in the world who means anything to me, and no one I mean anything to." I discovered that my speech was becoming slurred, and there was a lightness in my head. "That can't be right, can it?" I insisted. "I mean, what do you think? Do you think that's... that's right?"
The scene goes on in dramatic fashion - I encourage you all to read the whole book. It's great. I mean, it's really great.
But entirety of the book aside, I find the life of Charlie Gordon much akin to our lives.
We often think that when we are able to master/become good at ABC, that we will be praised, loved, adored. (Make lots of friends) Yet, when reality hits, and you find that people are more often than not, selfish, envious, jealous of success (not hard to find this out, just look in the mirror) and the praise you so longed for isn't there, we collapse in sorrow.
|What do you see?|
My point being: Friends are hard to come by. Friends that give a damn. Friends who mean something to you, and who you mean something to them. Friends who acknowledge suffering as a part of life - who don't see your vulnerability or grief as a weakness, but as an unmistakable aspect of life. Friends who are genuinely happy to see you succeed.
I mention sharing struggles, because that's become so rare in society nowadays. Social media is imperfect in its mediocre ability to minister to those who are hurting. So much of social media is about constructing this perfect, totally superficial, image, only filled with happiness and devoid of any actual substance.*
Can you find it in yourself to share? To take that first step and open up to others? In full knowledge of the fact that others have hurt you in the past? Admitting that we ourselves have hurt others as well? Can you find it in yourself to empathize with your fellow brother/sister when they're hurting? Not just give them advice, but to cry with them? Share and empathize, fearless of judgment/scrutiny?
"To love at all is to be vulnerable."
- C.S. Lewis
*Please forgive my railing against social media. It's just there's undeniably been a lot of harm that has come from such advancements in technology. I am, undoubtedly, guilty in these matters as well, so what I say should be taken with a grain of salt.