A Moral Compass and the Asshole of Kurt Vonnegut

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I came across a chalk drawing of an asshole in a parking lot.

It was a humble drawing, consisting of 4 lines intersecting at a central point. You could argue that it was the drawing of a simplified star. But I knew better. I’m a Kurt Vonnegut fan. His novel, Breakfast of Champions, is filed with artful doodles. One of the doodles is an asshole. It looks exactly like the one I stumbled on.

One of the greatest presents I ever received was a signed first edition of Breakfast of Champions. Back in the Eighties, my girlfriend at the time found a copy at Strand Bookstore and somehow got it in Kurt Vonnegut’s hands with instructions to write something personal to me. “For Good Old Tod,” he wrote, even getting the shortened spelling of my name correct. Then, coiled within his meandering signature, he drew an asshole, just like he drew for the novel. It’s the best thing ever!

Vonnegut used the drawing of an asshole in Breakfast of Champions to illustrate one of the entry points we humans use to put drugs into our bodies. We also use it as an entry point for countless other things.

I also refer to people filled with hateful ignorance as assholes.

I have been a fan of Kurt Vonnegut for my entire reading life. His writing taught me how it is possible to hold multiple perspectives at the same time and still maintain a healthy moral compass. He could tell the most heartbreaking stories and, within the same paragraph, describe how the human spirit can withstand those waves of heartbreak with elegance, humor and grace.

For Kurt Vonnegut, a worthwhile moral compass was a simple affair. In his story, God Bless you Mr. Rosewater, he wrote, “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

The ability to cry at the suffering and laugh at the absurdity with the same breath takes a honed spirit. And to keep kindness at the forefront is a heroic and revolutionary act. It’s the act of a modern-day spiritual warrior. Vonnegut would probably cringe at that designation, but that’s how I see him.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, kindness is woefully lacking today and assholes are a dime a dozen. Kurt Vonnegut’s writing helps me remember that, regardless of what the assholes say or do, kindness will always be Love’s doorway. And Love is the best feeling! Love is the underlying flow of all living life and it’s always right there. It’s best not to let the miserable assholes keep us from it.

Love seems our natural default setting before we are force-fed the descriptions of reality that seem to favor the assholes. Kindness is a map to get back to that natural state. Love is more powerful than any asshole on any day of the week! Reality is ours to describe for ourselves. So, why not describe a reality for ourselves fueled by kindness, humor and love; laughing at the face of hateful ignorance? Good Old Kurt. Long live Love!

Seeking the high road to Life’s cosmic punchline.