Friday, May 29, 2020

Complicated times.

"You know my methods in such cases, Watson: I put myself in a man's place, and having first gauged his intelligence, I try to imagine how I should myself have proceeded under the same circumstances."
-- Sherlock Holmes in "The Musgrave Ritual"

Sherlock Holmes was a wise man, on that, I think most of us can agree.

And perhaps he was never more wise than in the statement above. Empathy. Trying to see another's point of view. Trying to just understand. Sherlock Holmes used that skill, among many others, to walk into so many situations that made no sense whatsover, and saw just what was going on.

Now, take the statement above and replace "intelligence" with the word "anger."

Tonight, I am angry, about as angry as I get without letting go. And that little choice, that momentary decision to just let it all out, that second when you know it would just feel so good to let it all out . . . yeah . . . it comes with regret most times. But as much of that emotion as I'm feeling tonight, I know that there are people out there whom I can't do a Sherlock Holmes and put myself in their place. They're carrying an anger that my life, my happy home, my sense of safety, has kindly never let me feel. I know it exists, because I'm a human being and still share that humanity with those folks.

I can't put myself in that other man's place tonight. But goddamn, how angry he must be. 

Sherlock Holmes had some other skills too. He could look at patterns in the mud, patterns in people's behavior, patterns in orange seeds in the mail, and see the larger picture. It was never just about the mud or the pips. Sure, he might have stopped at the mud splatters, "Watson, your boots are muddy, should we have Billy shine them up for you?" but we wouldn't read those stories, for some bore who just didn't like Watson having muddy boots. No, Holmes looked at those boots and saw the story behind them.

But the patterns, too, are almost beyond us. The web's have been woven over decades, not by Moriartys, but by clumsy worker bees pursuing single objectives without looking at collateral effects, with so many motives. Greed, egotism, sex . . . it would be so lovely to see a master plan at work behind it all, to just go, "Hey, if we shove Jeff Bezos off a waterfall, this all gets fixed!" (Yes, I know Jeff isn't the guy we most want to shove off that falls, but he's got a worldwide web under his control, so good Moriarty metaphor.) We'd like one simple answer like that, one hound with phosphorous on his face unleashed by one greedy cousin, but it isn't that simple. It took all of us to get here.

There's a reason we love Sherlock Holmes. He solves seemingly unsolveable things, and if we could solve things, we wouldn't love him so much. We can't come close to being him.

John Watson on the other hand, a man who was willing to travel with a stranger to a demon-haunted land just to see if he could help, even if Sherlock wasn't there, that guy we can do a fair impression of. To be brave when we don't understand, to listen to explanations that weren't immediately apparent to us, to allow other people to use their own skills, learning, and that little thing called "science" to show us facts that we didn't know before, whether or not we like them. John Watson had the hard job at 221B Baker Street, just being ready to help even when he wasn't the one who got noticed, got credit, or got to even seem smart.

And he knew how to wait and to listen. That, in the end, is how we come the closest to putting ourselves in another person's place, even if there is no way to truly ever feel what they feel. So maybe tonight, in this moment, we try to put our own reactions aside long enough to listen, like Watson.

It may be all we have.

If you decide to leave Sherlock stuff for a bit, which is my general specialty, here's a guy worth listening to.

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