William James on love as a social transformer
Here's the psychologist William James, writing in The Varieties of Religious Experience, on the transformative power of forgiveness, tenderness and non-violence:
we may admit the human charity which we find in all saints...to be a genuinely creative social force, tending to make real a degree of virtue which it alone is ready to assume as possible. The saints are authors, auctores, increasers, of goodness...St Paul long ago made our ancestors familiar with the idea that every soul is virtually sacred. Since Christ died for us all without exception, St Paul said, we must despair of no one. This belief in the essential sacredness of every one expresses itself today in all sorts of humane customs and reformatory institutions, and in a growing aversion to the death penalty and to brutality in punishment.
The saints, with their extravagance of human tenderness, are the great torch-bearers of this belief, the top of the wedge, the clearers of the darkness...they show the way and are forerunners. The world is not yet with them , so they often seem in the midst of the world’s affairs to be preposterous. Yet they are impregnators of the world, vivifiers and animators of potentialities of goodness which but for them would lie forever dormant.
Momentarily considered, then, the saint may waste his tenderness and be the dupe and victim of his charitable fever, but the general function of his charity in social evolution is vital and essential. If things are ever to move upward, some one must be ready to take the first step , and assume the risk of it...When they do succeed, they are far more powerfully successful than force or worldly prudence. Force destroys enemies...But non-resistance, when successful, turns enemies into friends...
In this respect the Utopian dreams of social justice which many contemporary socialists and anarchists indulge are, in spite of their impracticability and non-adaptation to present environmental conditions, analogous to the saint’s belief in an existent kingdom of heaven. They help to break the edge of the general reign of hardness and are slow leavens of a better order.
And he later adds this:
How is success to be absolutely measured when there are so many environments and so many ways of looking at the adaptation? It cannot be measured absolutely; the verdict will vary according to the point of view adopted. From the biological point of view Saint Paul was a failure, because he was beheaded. Yet he was magnificently adapted to the larger environment of history; and so far as any saint’s example is a leaven of righteousness in the world, and draws it in the direction of more prevalent habits of saintliness, he is a success no matter what his immediate bad fortune may be.
His point reminds me of Martin Luther King, who preached the value of creative maladaptation, of living for a future kingdom rather than a present jail. These are the last lines of the last speech he gave: