“But now, Burke, let’s get back to the reason why I summoned you here. You surely must have been wondering why a complete stranger called you into his house on the mere recommendation of another. And I understand Dr. Cooper hasn’t let you in on the details of your visit?”
“No, he has in fact not told me anything. He said it ‘would spoil the plan’ – to use his words – if I knew too much beforehand. He did say, however, that cooperating with you is undoubtedly the most rewarding experience one could wish for in our otherwise so dull and ordinary lives.”
“Oh dear Cooper, he flatters me! He raised the bar very high, though, I’m afraid. I hope I won’t be disappointing you,” he laughed and poured himself another Bourbon.
“Oh I’m sure I won’t be disappointed. I have the highest opinion of Dr. Cooper and I trust his every word. He has always been quite exact in his evaluation of things. His predictions are sometimes uncannily correct, so I have no doubt that whatever it is you have in store for this evening will meet, if not exceed, my expectations. In fact I happen not to have any expectations at all – another valuable lesson I learned from Dr. Cooper. I came like an empty book, and you are welcome to scribble all over the blank pages. And it might please you to hear, Norton, that the introduction to this evening has been nothing but pleasure.”
“Never short of a comeback, dear Burke, I’m very impressed! And this evening has in every term exceeded my expectations by far! You wouldn’t believe what imbeciles I had to work with in the past.”
“I’m flattered to hear, Norton, that you don’t consider me a complete half-wit,” he laughed, and took up his glass to empty the last bit of water.
“Burke,” he guffawed, “ha, Burke, I see you like to see me in pain as well, twisting my words like that! You know how to play the game! My compliments, my compliments indeed, and thank you.”
“It’s my pleasure, Norton.”
“Oh no, no, the pleasure is all mine,” he snorted. “See, Burke, how hypocritical we all are. We pretend to be polite when what we are really after is to be the one on the receiving end of pleasure, and not to be the one who, for reasons of balance, has to be suffering.”
“You are incorrigible,” laughed the other, who was still holding the tumbler in which the remaining ice cubes were beginning to melt.
“Now Burke, I am not only a man of indulgence, but I am also a man of science. As a psychologist I study humans. I study human behaviour, to be more accurate, and I study the human mind. Many people come to me because they are unhappy, they are suffering and they are in pain. I have tried many things, and the greatest success I seem to be able to achieve is that my patients understand their pain and can trace it back to its origin. Some of my clients find it helpful to be able to categorize their suffering, to put it into boxes and label it. But the dilemma with boxes is that they tend to burst open once they get too full. Bringing order into your emotions does not relieve you from them. And while I appreciate that our emotions cannot always be reasonably explained, I do strongly believe that man, after all, is a rational being. Ratio is what distinguishes us from animals, and we don’t have to fall back upon our base instincts. Our intellect is the strongest weapon we have – we just need to learn how to use it. The right ideas and a true internalization of them, I am convinced, will enable us to overcome the notion of pain altogether. There is no such thing as pain, Burke, do you understand?”
The ice cubes had entirely melted. He took a small sip from the now lukewarm water. “I’m not entirely sure I agree, Norton. There is pain all around us, all the time. If I were to pinch your arm now, I’m very sure you’d experience an unpleasant sting. You would probably even carry a bruise that reminds you of this painful incident even in a few weeks time. Unlike the pragmatic who takes pleasure from inflicting pain I don’t think that I would personally benefit from hurting you in any way. On the contrary: I think I would feel great distress attacking you for no evident reason. It just doesn’t agree with my conviction we should avoid disturbance to others at any cost.”
“And this, my dear Burke, is where you are wrong. Where there is no pain, there is no way you could possibly cause it.”