Thursday, March 31, 2011


The older I get the more I realize that the most important thing any of us can do in life is strive to live compassionately, keeping our hearts open, treating others with understanding and, most important, simple human kindness.  “That which is most needed,” as Buddha said, in words that have echoed through my life for decades, “is a loving heart.”  I truly believe that the microcosm is the macrocosm.  That our smallest acts of compassion resonate across the planet.  That one heart can quite literally change the world.

Of course it’s one thing to make compassion an intention in our lives and quite another to live it.  Oh, I try, I honestly do, to be as good and decent a person as I can—I’ve been consciously working on myself, on my connection to the Divine, since I was in high school—but the truth is, for all my work, for all my striving, I’m regularly astounded by my ability to say or do spectacularly stupid or hurtful things.

I’ve found that ninety-nine percent of the time, when I’ve done something to wound another person, I’ve done it unconsciously:  I was so clueless I wasn’t even aware of my idiotic actions.  When I discover my transgression, my response is usually the same:  guilt, misery, shame, and abject apologies.  (The first three, I’ve decided, are fairly useless.  The abject apologies are absolutely necessary.)  Then—what else can I do?—I get up out of my pool of self-pity and determine to be more conscious of my actions in the future, to open my heart a little wider, to be more aware

That said, I think that no matter how hard we try to live our highest ideals, we are, at some point—and, I suspect, with some regularity—going to screw up:  say or do the wrong thing.  Make idiotic mistakes.  Hurt someone’s feelings.  The fact is we’re human—if we were meant to be pure and perfect angels we’d have been born with wings—so all we can do is our best.  Sometimes our best is extraordinary, sometimes it’s pathetic; but it’s the effort that counts, I think.

In Kurt Vonnegut’s wonderful 1965 novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (one of my all-time favorite books), the main character—a man who cares so much about his fellow humans that it’s driven him to the brink of madness—is asked to baptize newborn twins.  Eliot Rosewater then improvises a succinct, honest and heartfelt welcome to Planet Earth that concludes like this:  “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—:  ’God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’”

Those words, like Buddha’s request for a loving heart, have stayed with me for decades.  Neither quote is especially poetic, but both contain enough truth to change the world.

One heart at a time.

©copyright 2011  J.M. DeMatteis


  1. Your kindness has come through in your writing from the very beginning- even in a lot of the Marvel Team-Up stories. It shine even more brightly in your entries here as well as your interactions with all of us. Thanks so much.

  2. You are sincerely, and profoundly, welcome, Jeff.

  3. Very nice piece, JM, and on a subject I think about often. I try to bring some light to as many people as I can over the course of my work day, and I know I'm stepping on some toes here and there. Guilt is a useless emotion; just try to learn from whatever mistakes you discover, and improve to the best of your ability.

    I'm thinking something prompted this, and I doubt this is the kind of place for details; I just hope that whatever it was wasn't too harmful, or irreparable.

    Hope all goes well

    Have fun


  4. When I think of guilt, Ken, I think of that old STAR TREK episode -- "Day of the Dove" -- where that whirly red light comes on to the Enterprise and feeds off the negative emotions of the crew and the Klingons. To me, guilt seems like something outside ourselves, that feeds on us like a psychic vampire. It serves no purpose other than to torture us and nourish itself. In the end, it's much easier for us to wallow in guilt than it is to get up and actually change something about ourselves. THAT'S the real work.

    Nothing harmful or irreparable at work here. I actually wrote this piece a few years back for my old Amazon blog -- inspired by one of my small stupidities, nothing major or damaging. I came across it yesterday in my files and, knowing that the Amazon material has been wiped from the web, thought it would be helpful (to me, at least!) to post it here. God knows, I always need reminders.

  5. I've been (re-)reading a lot of your early stuff this year and it's really great to see your philosophy emerging in the midst of your on-the-job training. Especially moving were the Devil Slayer self-confrontation issues of Defenders along with the wonderful human touches in the aforementioned Marvel Team-Up- especially the one with the retiring Bugle reporter which took place in my adopted state of New Hampshire! It must've taken a bit of courage to show sentiment so early in your work as it can often come off as insincere. You had the chops even then to make it work, though, which set you apart from practically any other writer then working. Denny O'Neil also made it work with his No Hope in Crime Alley story and Claremont often displayed some sentiment underneath all of the other elements of his plots. You wore it on your sleeve and made it feel like you were initiating a conversation with your readers on some level- how nice that it was able to become more literal via this blog decades later. By the mid-to-late '80s, your writing gained more depth and, conversely, more unabashed silliness. But even before that time you were delivering something True.

  6. Thanks again, Jeff, for the kind words. It's hard for me to look at early work -- like TEAM-UP and DEFENDERS -- with any sense of objectivity. All I often see are the flaws. It's nice to know the work holds something of value (I certainly put heart and soul into it at the time). Also nice that you mention the Devil Slayer tales: the DEFENDERS issue where Eric Payne keeps returning to the Negative Zone, pondering suicide, is one of my favorites from that era. Come to think of it, DS is a character I wouldn't mind re-visiting.

  7. Being kind is not only good for society, it also is good for personal gains. When you are kind, you feel better. You also inspire others to be kind in return. The feeling that comes from being kind and grateful is very fulfilling and it makes life easier for us and the people around us.

  8. I couldn't agree more, Quique. Thanks so much for sharing that. Much appreciated.

  9. There's no denying it: simple human kindness enriches our lives and drives back the forces of pain and suffering that often threaten to overwhelm us.

  10. I love this. I'm feeling beaten by all of the hostility and anger out there. A lot of it political and nasty troll comments in general. This piece is a nice place to refocus. Thank you.