Here’s an excerpt from William Vollmann’s book Poor People … of an exchange between two men … one, a passerby, and the other, homeless “young, bearded, well-clad, his his bluejean legs sewn into pockets around his stumps“.
He expressed through his noninsistence my right not to give him anything, and the little that I did give was simply my recognition of him as he was. The more I write about this moment, the more I degrade it; for making it significant cannot but seem a pretension to generosity or superiority on my part, or at least a magnification of his deformity. But the significance was precisely in the insignificance. We saw each other; I gave; he accepted; we forgot each other.
Man, Vollmann is such an awesome writer and I feel grateful for all the feelings of empathy, acceptance and forgiveness that his book book is stirring up in me. Somewhere inside “me” is a part that is really inspired by Vollmann … that wants to speak with the same empathy, clarity and attention to human dignity and emotion.
Is this part of “me” – my favorite part of who I am – partially encoded in my genome? Genes to facilitate a deep desire for social connection and acceptance? Genes for helping me see clearly and honestly through all my cognitive biases and filters? Genes that underlie my sense of fairness and trust? These would be my favorite genes … ones that I would study in depth.