Lessons From Leonard Cohen – A Manual For Living With Defeat is a collection of Leonard Cohen’s observations that offer insight into living in this imperfect world. For information about how this series differs from other collections of so-called lessons from Leonard Cohen, see Lessons From Leonard Cohen – Introduction.
Lesson #1: Let Your Lover (And Everybody Else) Off The Hook
The lesson I’ve personally found most useful is set forth in this excerpt from the original English questionnaire for Le Dernier Empereur by J.D. Beauvallet and Pierre Siankowski (Les Inrocks: Oct 19, 2016) forwarded to me from Leonard Cohen:
At the beginning and at the very end of the [You Want It Darker] album you mention a “treaty.” What kind of treaty is it exactly?
A treaty between your love and mine,
both these loves utterly impenetrable
one to the other.
A man I studied with said: Love your neighbor? Difficult. How about, Try not to hate your neighbor. Unless the situation is life-threatening, let your lover (and everybody else) off the hook.
“Compassion grows if you understand that everyone’s up against it”
In other instances, Leonard proffered the related notion that compassion can grow from the realization that “everyone’s up against it.” This passage is from Leonard Cohen interview With Stina Dabrowski (Mount Baldy Zen Center: 1997):
Note: The “French woman” to whom Leonard alludes in the final sentence is actually Simone Weil (thanks to Thelma Blitz for this information); the full quote is “The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, “What are you going through?”
“If you understand that there are other forces determining what you do… when someone does something to you that you really don’t like or that hurts you, well, a feeling of injury may arise, but what doesn’t is hatred or enmity.”
Similarly, Leonard’s premise that “free will is overrated” leads to the understanding that injury caused by another doesn’t necessarily have to result in hatred. These words are from Life Of A Ladies’ Man by Sarah Hampson (Globe and Mail: May. 25, 2007):
You have to take responsibility because the world holds you accountable for what you do. But if you understand that there are other forces determining what you do, then there’s no pride when the world affirms you, no shame when the world scorns you. Also, when someone does something to you that you really don’t like or that hurts you, well, a feeling of injury may arise, but what doesn’t is hatred or enmity, because those people aren’t doing it, either. They’re just doing what had to be done.
“Recognise that your struggle is the same as everyone else’s struggle. Your suffering is the same as everyone else’s suffering: I think that’s the beginning of a responsible life.”
And, most directly, from Leonard Cohen: ‘I’m a closet optimist’ [a report on the Sept 16, 2014 London Press Preview Of Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems] by Andy Morris. Gigwise, Sept 16, 2014.:
If the ‘manual for living with defeat’ mentioned in ‘Going Home’ existed, what it might include?
That’s a tough question. I wish I could come up with something because we are all living with defeat and failure, disappointment and bewilderment. We are all living with these dark forces that modify in our lives. The manual for living with defeat? First of all acknowledge the fact that everyone suffers, everyone is engaged in an almighty struggle for self-respect, for meaning and significance. The first step would be to recognise that your struggle is the same as everyone else’s struggle. Your suffering is the same as everyone else’s suffering: I think that’s the beginning of a responsible life. Otherwise we’re in a savage battle with each other, unless we recognise that each of us suffers in the same way there is no possible solution: political, social or spiritual. That would be be the beginning, that recognition that we all suffer.
More Lessons From Leonard Cohen
All published posts in this series can be found at
Credit Due Department: Photo taken in the front yard of Leonard’s LA home in 2014 by Penny Showalter.
I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Nov 20, 2017.