Coming clean by Theodor Adorno
To find out whether a person means us well there is one almost infallible criterion: how he passes on unkind or hostile remarks about us.
As part of our September student reading, we're publishing an excerpt from Theodor Adorno's beloved collection Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life every day until the end of the month.
All books are 40% off as part of our Student Reading Sale. Ends September 30 at 11:59PM EST. See all our student reading lists here.
Coming clean - To find out whether a person means us well there is one almost infallible criterion: how he passes on unkind or hostile remarks about us. Usually such reports are superfluous, nothing but pretexts to help ill-will on its way without taking responsibility, indeed in the name of good. Just as all acquaintances feel an inclination to say something disparaging about everyone from time to time, probably in part because they baulk at the greyness of acquaintanceship, so at the same time each is sensitive to the views of all others, and secretly wishes to be loved even where he does not himself love: no less indiscriminate and general than the alienation between people is the longing to breach it. In this climate the passer-on flourishes, never short of damaging material and ever secure in the knowledge that those who wish to be liked by everyone are always avidly on the lookout for evidence of the contrary. One ought to transmit denigratory remarks only when they relate directly and transparently to shared decisions, to the assessment of people on whom one has to rely, for example in working with them. The more disinterested the report, the murkier the interest, the warped desire, to cause pain. It is relatively harmless if the teller simply wants to set the two parties against each other while showing off his own qualities. More frequently he comes forward as the appointed mouthpiece of public opinion, and by his very dispassionate objectivity lets the victim feel the whole power of anonymity to which he must bow. The lie is manifest in the unnecessary concern for the honour of the injured party ignorant of his injury, for everything being above board, for inner cleanliness; as soon as these values are asserted by the Gregers Werles1 of our contorted world the contortion is increased. By dint of moral zeal, the well meaning become destroyers.
I. Da bin ich wieder, / hergekommen aus weiter Welt: lines from Morike's Peregrina cycle.