That's not a quote from the Buddha, and it's not from Tolstoy either. I don't know whether it's originally French or if it came from another language. (Note to self: screenplay for geeky sci-fi movie: IT CAME FROM ANOTHER LANGUAGE!)
In English it means: "To understand everything is to forgive everything."
As regular readers of this blog know, I resist believing uncritically in cliches, including the cliche: "Cliches are cliches because they're true." Instead, I think that cliches are cliches because they sound good. But this one, "tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner," this one strikes me as somewhat deep. I'm not able easily to dismiss it.
Over and over, I have asked myself, how does anything ever get done? That's when I'm waiting in a line, or in traffic, for the people ahead of me to get their shit together and get out of my way. But recently I had an insight: I'm only out there in those lines or in that traffic very seldom, and I spend a lot of time getting ready for those occasions. Typical adults are in those situations all the time. If I had a more typical life and was constantly interacting with others, I might be unusually slow during the several days it took me to have a complete mental breakdown.
I understood something, and since then I tend to be more forgiving.
So anyway, today a discussion broke out about the snake in the Garden of Eden, and as usual I'm greatly annoyed with almost everything everyone is saying: some atheists who seem very angry at God, and ask, "Why would God...?" That seems to me to be the wrong question. God didn't... anything, since He's imaginary. Yes, there are contradictions and inconsistencies in the Bible. It was written by people who believed that the God they worshiped was all-powerful and loving, and yet they still suffered, and this was what they came up with to try to figure it out.
Then there are the people who insist that Genesis was never taken literally until the 19th century. This one always makes me head explode with rage, familiar as I am with the abundant evidence of all the billions of people who took the Bible literally from the time it was written until now.
So, what is it which I have to understand in order to be able to take part in these conversations in a form other than my usual: No, you're wrong, and you're wrong too, and so are you, and you, and you... ?
Good question. That approach does not make me universally beloved.
Maybe I need to understand all of the reasons people take part in these conversations other than making the kind of sense they would be expected to make in a good and sound course in archaeology?
Or maybe I need to throw "tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner" onto my scrap heap of rejected cliches. It doesn't seem to mesh at all with another bonmot, one which I think I like more: #5 from the chapter "Sprüche und Pfeile" in Nietzsche's book Götzen-Dämmerung: "Ich will, ein für allemal, vieles nicht wissen. – Die Weisheit zieht auch der Erkenntnis Grenzen." ("Once and for all, there is much that I don't want to know. Wisdom puts limits even on knowledge.")
Yeah, I think I should go with Nietzsche in this case. "Understanding everything" -- what does that even mean, "understanding everything"? It's a nonsense concept. As Steven Wright said: "You can't have everything -- where would you put it?" And I'm afraid that understanding everything is just as impractical as having everything.
Instead of striving to understand the people in these discussion about God and Genesis, these discussions which aggravate me so -- how about if I simply stop trying to understand all of them and all of their points of view? Wow: just thinking for half a minute about stopping, and I'm so relaxed. I think I'm onto something here. If I just give up on this, it may not make everybody love me, but it very well might make a few people dislike me less, and that's certainly a palpable achievement.
So. Just let those arguments go. And instead... keep looking for more interesting, less enraging discussions.