As a child Joe had been taught that pity was a virtue. He wasn’t consciously aware of it, for it was sunk deep in his subconscious. On Sunday Joe walked into the park. Various artists had their paintings and sculptures on display and for sale. One sculptor was showing mangled lumps of stone and metal. Joe sat on a bench not far away from this and he there overheard two elderly ladies talking about the sculptor. One of them said he had had a very hard life and that one of his hands had been cut off in a factory accident. The other one said he was very very poor and had no friends or family. Joe felt strange stirrings within himself.
He got up, strolled over to the mangled lumps and saw a price tagged on one of them for fifty dollars. The “artist” was sitting on the grass, looking fixedly at Joe. He had piercing black eyes and a vicious scowl on his face. Joe pulled out fifty dollars and walked up to him and said, “I’ll take that one,” pointing to the little crooked piece. The man looked hard at Joe and said, “No you won’t. You don’t like it. You’re just acting out of pity. I don’t want your goddamed pity. What? You think I have no self-respect? You think I’m gonna help you feel virtuous by accepting your pity? Not a chance. Pity is nothing but the denial of your own true judgment. Now bug off!”
Joe felt anger as he turned and walked away. And a sense of relief, too, coupled with a touch of shame. The man was right; he didn’t want that pile of junk. He thought about what had prompted him to offer to buy it. He thought about pity, about what a low thing it was compared to admiration, and he found he was feeling admiration for the deadbeat sculptor’s attitude, even though he wasn’t really a sculptor at all. He spun around, walked back, pulled out a twenty and said, as he balled it up and threw it at the man’s feet, “There’s nothing about your work I like, but I admire your honesty. Create something beautiful next time—–if you can.” The “sculptor” almost smiled.