Saturday, April 30, 2016

Humor as a response to the human condition

Ford Madox Ford:

"Why, I remember on that afternoon I saw a brown cow hitch its horns under the stomach of a black and white animal and the black and white one was thrown right into the middle of a narrow stream. I burst out laughing. ... Because it does look very funny you know to see a black and white cow land on its back in the middle of a stream. It is just so exactly what one doesn’t expect of a cow.
"

Wendy Plump:

"I think my angel is drunk. That would explain everything."

Sherwin T. Wine:

”Life has an absurdity to it. It sometimes traps us in existential stairwells with no exit. We cannot figure out why we are there. And we cannot change what has happened. There are three alternatives. We can resign ourselves piously to the situation and pray, knowing that in some mysterious way getting stuck in a stairwell is for our own good. We can cry, wail and scream, hoping that some rescue force will hear our cry, take pity on us and save us. Or we can laugh.

Laughter is neither friendly nor reverent nor resigned. In the story of evolution it started out as turned away anger. Displaying teeth is not usually a friendly gesture. It is a prelude to biting. But instead of biting, laughers open their mouths and howl. There is always an edge of hostility to laughing. ‘Biting’ humor and mockery are always on the edge of even the kindest joke. When we hear laughter we are never sure whether they are laughing with us or at us.

Traditional religion and laughter are opposite ways of responding to the human condition. The heart of religion is worship, a recurrent surrender to the will of God. Worship rests on the profound conviction that all is well with the world even though the world appears to be sick. God is loving, just and orderly, even though we do not seem to be experiencing a lot of love, justice and moral order. From the human perspective the world is crazy. From the divine perspective the world, with all its supernatural rewards and punishments, is a wonderful place.

Laughing starts with the absurdity of life. Life is frustrating. The world is not fair. The good are punished more than they ought to be. The wicked are rewarded more than they ought to be. Kindness gets you rejection. Cruelty gets you power. Laughter is rarely welcome in religious institutions.

Laughter is a safe expression of anger and discomfort with the way life goes. It helps to drain our anger and keeps us from both apoplexy and going crazy.

Realists love laughter. It is one of their best strategies for survival. They resist resignation and avoid waiting. When the absurdity of the universe traps hem in the stairwell, they throw their heads back and laugh."

Brené Brown:

"1. Why are laughter, song, and dance so important to us?

2. Is there some transformational element that they have in common?

These were complicated questions to answer because, yes, we yearn to laugh and sing and dance when we feel joy, but we also turn to these forms of expression when we feel lonely, sad, excited, in love, heartbroken, afraid, ashamed, confident, certain, doubtful, brave, grief, and ecstasy (just to name a few). I’m convinced that there’s a song, a dance, and a path to laughter for every human emotion.

After a couple of years of analyzing my data, here’s what I learned:

Laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration, or healing: We are not alone.

Ironically, I learned the most about laughter during the eight years that I was studying shame. Shame resilience requires laughter. In I Thought It Was Just Me, I refer to the kind of laughter that helps us heal as knowing laughter. Laughter is a spiritual form of communing; without words we can say to one another, “I’m with you. I get it.”

True laughter is not the use of humor as self-deprecation or deflection; it’s not the kind of painful laughter we sometimes hide behind. Knowing laughter embodies the relief and connection we experience when we realize the power of sharing our stories—we’re not laughing at each other but with each other.

* * *

I know how much courage it takes to let people hear our hearts speak, but life is way too precious to spend it pretending like we’re super-cool and totally in control when we could be laughing, singing, and dancing."

Parker J. Palmer:

“Silence in a circle of trust differs from laughter in one important way, besides the fact that it is less noisy. The laughter that deepens our relationships is not a planned practice but a spontaneous response to shared experience. It is not the kind of laughter evoked by a skilled comedian. It is the kind that comes naturally as we spot – and throw the spotlight on – the comedy inherent in everyday life.”

Sources

Ford Madox Ford. The Good Soldier. Originally 1915. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1995. p 35.

Wendy Plump. Vow: A Memoir of Marriage (and Other Affairs). New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Sherwin T. Wine. Staying Sane in a Crazy World: A Guide to Rational Living. Birmingham, Mich.: The Center for New Thinking, 1995. pp. 182-183.

Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Center City, Minn.: Hazelden Publishing, 2010.

Parker J. Palmer. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004. p. 157.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Quotes on the drive for a romantic relationship

Abigail Heyman:

"In spite of what I've experienced and observed, I still cling to the image of a relationship between a man and a woman in which each can function better, and grow further, and love more because of the other. Sometimes all this has seemed so close that I believe it's possible.

But always, as those relationships became more intimate, I felt instead how they limited my growth, how the compromises required to keep the relationship alive were deadening important parts of me, and I decided that my wholeness was more important than the love. But I miss that kind of love a lot.

And I still wonder what's so radically wrong with me, so absolutely unlovable about me, that no man has ever loved me in a way that I can now respect as love.

How then do I want to love again? How then do I want to be loved? I only know I don't want to be loved in the irresponsible way that I could only respect when I didn't love myself. Or in the possessive way that seemed right when I saw myself as a dependent person. Or in the adoring way that I could eagerly accept only when that love was the only thing I wanted in life."

Victor Hugo:

"The supreme happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved."

Simon Blackburn:

”In Shakespeare's view, erotic love is a kind of overlay or varnish onto lust, and what it adds is not itself very much to do with good things like truth and trust. Love is more associated with unreasonable dotings, fiction, madness, bubbles, blindness, and illusion.”

Gary T. Boswell:

”Relationships are murdered in the pursuit to define love. Love is sibling to faith, as they are both natural responses to a mystery. We have captured love and now we can buy and sell it, we can withhold it to be punitive; we even write books instructing us how to feel it. It is no more enough just to love; now people want this love to give them something. To validate themselves, to give a sense of worth to their lives, in this way love becomes currency, we barther with this love, that began as an inspiration; and all too often becomes a means to manipulate a price from another, I love you therefore you owe me this...”

Gabrielle Zevin:

"They do agree on a passage from The Late Bloomer to be read at the service by one of Amelia’s college friends.

'It is the secret fear that we are unlovable that isolates us,' the passage goes, 'but it is only because we are isolated that we think we are unlovable. Someday, you do not know when, you will be driving down a road. And someday, you do not know when, he, or indeed she, will be there. You will be loved because for the first time in your life, you will truly not be alone. You will have chosen to not be alone.'”

Stephen Batchelor:

“In encountering another, one is confronted not with an immutable fact but a pathway of possible intimacy. One speaks of someone being ‘closed’ or ‘open,’ of ‘getting through’ to them, of finding the ‘chinks in his armor.’ A person is like a path: a space whose trajectory we may or may not be invited to share. We long to trust others enough to dismantle the boundaries we initially want them to respect. To be intimate with another is to be allowed inside their life and to let them enter yours. As we embark on the seemingly endless quest of mutual understanding, we become a chapter in each other’s story, figures in each other’s dreams, creators of each other’s self. To know another intimately is not achieved by dissolving the differences between us but by allowing the space to draw them out. Such differentiation is realized through probing and being probed by the otherness of the other.”

Anaïs Nin:

”Where the myth fails, human love begins. Then we love a human being, not our dream, a human being with flaws.”

Sources

Abigail Heyman. Growing up female: a personal photojournal. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974.

Simon Blackburn. Lust. Oxford University Press, 2004. p 79.

Gary T. Boswell. "Faith." White Crane Journal. Issue #54, Fall 2002. p 17.

Gabrielle Zevin. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014.

Stephen Batchelor. Living with the Devil: A Meditation on Good and Evil. New York: Riverhead, 2004. pp. 133-134.

Anaïs Nin, November 1941. Quoted on Brainpickings.org.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Rats and other fearsome things

Tara Brach:

”Who doesn’t know the experience of fear? Fear is waking up in the night, like Barbara, terrified that we can’t go on. Fear is the jittery feeling in our stomach, the soreness and pressure around our heart, the strangling tightness in our throat. Fear is the loud pounding of our heart, the racing of our pulse. Fear constricts our breathing, making it rapid and shallow. Fear tells us we are in danger, and then urgently drives our mind to make sense of what is happening and figure out what to do. Fear takes over our mind with stories about what will go wrong. Fear tells us we will lose our body, lose our mind, lose our friends, our family, the earth itself. Fear is the anticipation of future pain.”

Stephen Batchelor:

“Disease, ageing, and death are forms of an internal violence that afflicts all creatures; whereas natural disasters, viral infections, and terrorist attacks are examples of an external violence that threatens to break out anywhere. The globalized, interconnected world has become a body that is prone to these outbursts without warning. In a way that Baudelaire could not have imagined, we are capable of feeling the instability and vulnerability of the living system of which we are a part and on which we depend. Whether it be the appearance of a virus, a hole in the ozone layer, or a hijacked plane, such events are rapidly and vividly made known through the electronic media. They do not have to impinge on our personal existence or occur very often to frighten us. Mara’s most effective weapon is sustaining a climate of fear.”

George Orwell:

"You asked me once," said O'Brien, "what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world." * * * "The worst thing in the world," said O'Brien," varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal." * * * "In your case," said O'Brien, "the worst thing in the world happens to be rats."

Dean Koontz:

"Here but a step from the bathroom threshold, Erika experienced another kind of fear: of the unknown.

That which is abnormal to nature is a monster, even if it might be beautiful in its own way. Erika, created not by nature but by the hand of man, was a lovely monster but a monster nonetheless.

She supposed that monsters should not fear the unknown because, by any reasonable definition, they were part of it. Yet a tingle of apprehension traced the contours of her spine.

Instinct told her that the rat was not a rat, that instead it was a thing unknown."

Sources

Tara Brach. Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha. Chapter 7, "Opening Our Heart in the Face of Fear." pp. 165-166.

Stephen Batchelor. Living with the Devil: A Meditation on Good and Evil. New York: Riverhead, 2004. p. 45.

George Orwell. 1984. (Originally published 1949.) New York: The New American Library, 1961. p. 233.

Dean Koontz. Frankenstein: Prodigal Son (#1 of 5 in the Frankenstein series) (2005) Bantam, 2007.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

From suffering to healing

“Undergoing suffering isn't a virtue at all, and it's unlikely to create any,” wrote Susan Neiman.

Nonetheless, we are all wounded somehow, and we have to admit it to heal ourselves. "He who conceals his disease cannot be cured,
" holds an Ethiopian proverb. Furthermore, internalizing the perspective granted by our suffering enables us to empathize with others. Erich Neumann wrote, “As the myth puts it, only a wounded man can be a healer, a physician. Because in his own suffering the creative man experiences the profound wounds of his collectivity and his time, he carries deep within him a regenerative force capable of bringing forth a cure not only for himself but also for the community.”

Diana Butler Bass: “We practice healing, and as we practice it, we learn the quiet dimensions of shalom, the unheralded dimensions of salvation, of compassion and charity.”

Sources

Susan Neiman. Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grownup Idealists. Quoted in Nikki Stern. Because I Say So: The Dangerous Appeal of Moral Authority. Bascom Hill Books, 2010. p. 12.

Ethiopian proverb. Quoted in UTNE Reader, July/August 1999

Erich Neumann, "Creative Man and Transformation," published in his book of four essays Art and the Creative Unconscious. Translated by Ralph Manheim. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966. p. 186.

Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith, HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. p. 113.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The reality of myths

Hilda Doolittle wrote:

"The dog is now a myth, for that reason he appears in dreams, unmistakably and in the most satisfactory manner. He wallows in snowdrifts, his ears are like the knitted mittens on that long tape than [sic] ran through the sleeves of our winter coats; he carries, of course, the barrel strapped to his collar, and as I fling my arms about his neck – he is larger than a small pony – I am in an ecstasy of bliss. The snow gives back whatever an anesthetic may have once given.

Mythology is actuality, as we now know. The dog with his gold-brown wool, his great collar and the barrel, is of course none other than our old friend Ammon-Ra, whose avenue of horned sphinxes runs along the sand from the old landing-stage of the Nile barges to the wide portals of the temple at Karnak. He is Ammon or he is Amen, forever and ever. I want you to know he is as ordinary as the cheap lithograph that used to hang in nursery bedrooms; he is even as ordinary as the colored advertisement sheets, bearing his effigy, tacked to telegraph poles that one passed, in the old days, along the reaches of the Bernese Oberland. You see him on a postcard in a window along the Lake of Lucerne. There is a monk standing beside him; we may whisper Saint Bernard. Or, depending on what particular line to telegraph pole our particular wire of approach to the eternal verities is strung, we may actually be reminded of our own or a friend's dog, or we may know that we have seen, in the flesh, the Lion of Saint Mark's or the Lion of Saint Jerome, or we may recognize our indisputable inheritance, Ammon, Amen from time immemorial, later Aries, our gold-fleece Ram."

Lawrence Kushner:

"Kabbalists see sefirot everywhere; creation is a manifestation of the sefirot. Every character, place, even color in the Hebrew Bible is an allusion to one of the sefirot. Indeed, the Bible itself can be read on a kabbalistic level as a description of the interactive workings of the sefirot. In the same way, every dysfunction in our universe is likewise understood as the result of a destabilization of the sefirot – which are also the divine psyche."

Iain M. Banks:

"All our lives are symbols. Everything we do is part of a pattern we have at least some say in."

C. G. Jung:

"A symbol loses its magical or, if you prefer, its redeeming power as soon as its liability to dissolve is recognized. To be effective, a symbol must be by its very nature unassailable. It must be the best possible expression of the prevailing world-view, an unsurpassed container of meaning; it must also be sufficiently remote from comprehension to resist all attempts of the critical intellect to break it down; and finally, its aesthetic form must appeal so convincingly to our feelings that no argument can be raised against it on that score."

Carol S. Pearson:

"Stories about heroes are deep and eternal. They link our own longing and pain and passion with those who have come before in such a way that we learn something about the essence of what it means to be human, and they also teach us how we are connected to the great cycles of the natural and spiritual worlds. The myths that can give our lives significance are deeply primal and archetypal and can strike terror into our hearts, but they can also free us from inauthentic lives and make us real. If we avoid what T. S. Eliot called this 'primitive terror' at the heart of life, we miss our connection to life’s intensity and mystery. Finding our own connection with such eternal patterns provides a sense of meaning and significance in even the most painful or alienated moments, and in this way restores nobility to life."

Sam McKeen:

”What is a myth? Few words have been subject to as much abuse and been as ill-defined as myth. Journalists usually use it to mean a "lie," "fabrication," "illusion," "mistake," or something similar. It is the opposite of what is supposedly a "fact," of what is "objectively" the case, and of what is "reality." In this usage myth is at best a silly story and at worst a cynical untruth. Theologians and propagandists often use myth as a way of characterizing religious beliefs and ideologies other than their own.

Such trivialization of the notion of myth reflects false certainties of dogmatic minds, an ignorance of the mythic assumptions that underlie the commonly accepted view of "reality," and a refusal to consider how much our individual and communal lives are shaped by dramatic scenarios and "historical" narratives that are replete with accounts of the struggle between good and evil empires: our godly heroes versus the demonic enemy.

In a strict sense myth refers to "an intricate set of interlocking stories, rituals, rites, and customs that inform and give the pivotal sense of meaning and direction to a person, family, community, or culture." A living myth, like an iceberg, is 10 percent visible and 90 percent beneath the surface of consciousness. While it involves a conscious celebration of certain values, which are always personified in a pantheon of heroes (from the wily Ulysses to the managing Lee Iacocca) and villains (from the betraying Judas to the barbarous Moammar Kadafi), it also includes the unspoken consensus, the habitual way of seeing things, the unquestioned assumptions, the automatic stance. It is differing cultural myths that make cows sacred objects for Hindus and hamburgers meals for Methodists, or turn dogs into pets for Americans and roasted delicacies for the Chinese.

At least 51 percent of the people in a society are not self-consciously aware of the myth that informs their existence. Cultural consensus is created by an unconscious conspiracy to consider the myth "the truth," "the way things really are." In other words, a majority is made up of literalists, men and women who are critical or reflective about the guiding "truths" – myths – of their own group. To a tourist in a strange land, an anthropologist studying a tribe, or a psychologist observing a patient, the myth is obvious. But to the person who lives within the mythic horizon, it is nearly invisible.”

Mircea Eliade:

"If in every European language the word ‘myth’ denotes a ‘fiction,’ it is because the Greeks proclaimed it to be such twenty-five centuries ago."

Sources

H. D. [Hilda Doolittle.] The Gift. New York: New Directions, 1982. pp. 25-26.

Lawrence Kushner, "What is Kabbalah?" in I'm God; You're Not: Observations on Organized Religion & Other Disguises of the Ego. Jewish Lights Pub, 2010.

Iain M. Banks, writing the character of Frank Cauldhame. The Wasp Factory. (1984)

C. G. Jung. Aspects of the Feminine. (Collected Works.) Translation by R. F. C. Hull. New York: MJF Books, 1982. p. 21.

Carol S. Pearson. Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World. HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. p. 2.

Sam McKeen in the preface to: Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox, Your Mythic Journey: Finding Meaning in Your Life Through Writing and Storytelling. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1989. pp. xi-xii. (This is a revised version of Telling Your Story, originally published 1973.)

Mircea Eliade. Myth and Reality. (1963) Translated from the French by Willard R. Trask. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1975. p. 148.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

How ideas take root

Osborn Segerberg, Jr.:

"The search for truth – or understanding – is not simply an indulgence of curiosity nor merely an intellectual exercise. It is a sophisticated means to survive. ... Survival (which often requires domination) is the ultimate test we have for efficacy, or congruence with reality, whether applied to a belief, an idea, a system of thought, a way of doing things, or an individual and his descendants, his group, his species."

Max Lerner:

"A doctrine does not spread by itself – because of its own inner beauty or logic or consistency. It spreads because it is a response to deeply experienced needs. It spreads because of strong impulsions from the system of production and from the alignment of economic power. It spreads when there is something in it that is a response to the ethos of a period. It spreads when there are powerful groups willing to spread it because they are able to use it."

Noam Chomsky:

"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum."

Nicholas Fearn:

"To the delight of politicians and the chagrin of philosophers, people can be convinced of just about anything so long as one does not employ rational argument."

George Orwell:

”They slapped his face, wrung his ears, pulled his hair, made him stand on one leg, refused him leave to urinate, shone glaring lights in his face until his eyes ran with water; but the aim of this was simply to humiliate him and destroy his power of arguing and reasoning.”

Hannah Arendt:

"...factuality itself depends for its continued existence upon the existence of the non-totalitarian world."

Robert A. Burton:

"The revolutionary premise at the heart of this book is:

Despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of 'knowing what we know' arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of reason.

* * *

To expect well-reasoned arguments to easily alter personal expressions of purpose is to misunderstand the biology of belief. If there is to be any rapprochement between science and religion, both sides must accept this basic limitation.

* * *

The message at the heart of this book is that the feelings of knowing, correctness, conviction, and certainty aren't deliberate conclusions and conscious choices. They are mental sensations that happen to us."

Sources

Osborn Segerberg, Jr. The Immortality Factor. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., Inc. 1974. p xvii-xviii.

Max Lerner. It Is Later Than You Think: The Need for a Militant Democracy. New York: The Viking Press, 1939. p 7-8.

Noam Chomsky, quoted in TheAtlantic.com, quoted in The Week, March 18, 2016. p. 19.

Nicholas Fearn, How to Think Like a Philosopher. New York: Grove Press, 2001. p 25.

George Orwell. 1984. (Originally published 1949.) New York: The New American Library, 1961. p. 199.

Hannah Arendt. The Burden of Our Time. London: Secker and Warburg, 1951. Published in the US as The Origins of Totalitarianism. p 375.

Robert A. Burton. On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2008. p. xiii, 183-184, 218.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Ideas in tension

The essayist Joseph Joubert wrote, "It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it." Sometimes the wisdom is in the debate itself, or at least in the perception of two or more alternatives. "A wise man of our own time," wrote Gilbert Highet, "was once asked what was the single greatest contribution of Greece to the world's welfare. He replied 'The greatest invention of the Greeks was men and de. For men means 'on the one hand,' and de means 'on the other hand.' Without these two balances, we cannot think."

However – or, to borrow a phrase, on the other hand – Lee Siegel warned that if we always silo ideas that are in tension and focus on the resulting dichotomies, we will never be able to make connections, find common ground, and help each other move forward. He wrote:

"Now just about every political debate comes down to one phrase: economic policy.

* * *

What we never hear about in the popular media – where intellectual discussion once took place – is debate over fundamental meanings, or essential definitions, or connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena. Those are the elements of an idea, which is the challenge consciousness makes to concrete reality. When Archimedes said, 'Give me a lever that is long enough, and I will move the world,' he was talking about how you can think your way into a new actuality.

Instead of ideas, we have 'issues,' which are the way the world tricks consciousness into believing that things never really change. Because an issue has two sides to it, both sides will still be there whichever one prevails. The 'issue' – consider abortion – never goes away. But an idea – e.g. the issue of abortion is more fundamentally about the social limits of sexual pleasure, not merely about reproductive rights – leaps beyond the two sides of an issue into the essential condition from which they spring. It makes you stop to think, instead of provoking you to start to argue. An issue is the place where ideas run out of steam.

As a result of our yapping, endlessly banal, issue-dominated culture, the intellectuals, who work with ideas the way a Realtor works with property, are out of work."

Matthew E. May presented this insight: "When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said generations ago that ‘I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity,’ he meant that to find elegance, you must appreciate, embrace, and then travel beyond complexity." The judge's comment favors the assumption that there is a problem to be solved. He says that a simple solution is better than a complex solution, but it would be even worse to arrive at no conclusion at all.

On the third hand, analytic philosophical inquiry itself – whether it is content to remain in a perpetually unsatisfied debate or whether it progresses toward a conclusion – may not be the best way to find truth. Robert M. Pirsig wrote:

Once it's stated that "the dialectic comes before anything else," this statement itself becomes a dialectical entity, subject to dialectical question.

Phaedrus would have asked, What evidence do we have that the dialectical question-and-answer method of arriving at truth comes before anything else? We have none whatsoever. And when the statement is isolated and itself subject to scrutiny it becomes patently ridiculous. Here is this dialectic, like Newton's law of gravity, just sitting by itself in the middle of nowhere, giving birth to the universe, hey? It's asinine.

Sources

Joseph Joubert, quoted in the Montreal Gazette. The Week, April 4, 2014, p. 15.

Gilbert Highet. Man's Unconquerable Mind. New York: Columbia University Press, 1954. p 19-20.

"The Intellectual Crash of 2009." Lee Siegel. TheDailyBeast.com. March 25, 2009.

Matthew E. May, In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing. New York: Broadway Books, 2009. p. 25.

Robert M. Pirsig. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. (1974) New York: Bantam, 1975. p. 385.

The wisdom of your enemies

"Remember the good things that you hear, and do not consider who says them," counseled Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The source of an apparent pearl of wisdom is often irrelevant. Yeats highlighted our universal connection: "If what I say resonates with you, it's merely because we are both branches on the same tree."

Those who appear to be "enemies" may be better understood as social critics who have important feedback to give us. Jeff Schmidt wrote:

"Professionals generally avoid the risk inherent in real critical thinking and cannot properly be called critical thinkers. They are simply ideologically disciplined thinkers. Real critical thinking means uncovering and questioning social, political and moral assumptions; applying and refining a personally developed worldview; and calling for action that advances a personally created agenda. An approach that backs away from any of these three components lacks the critical spirit."

Nikki Stern noted the tendency to ostracize even those allies who attempt to understand the true enemy:

"[William] Bennett [in his 2002 book Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism] focused on [Ward] Churchill's statement [describing World Trade Center workers as "little Eichmanns"] in order to launch an attack against 'terrorist sympathizers.' The group included those who were trying to understand the underlying ideology that motivates terrorism."

Rollo May pointed out that brave, nonconformist thinking is often an especially effective deliverer of wisdom. "The authentic rebel knows," he wrote, "that the silencing of his adversaries is the last thing on earth he wishes: their extermination would deprive him and whoever else remains alive from the uniqueness, the originality, and the capacity for insight that these enemies – being human – also have and could share with him. ... We would lose not only our enemies' good ideas, but the restraints they give us as well." Consider that we sometimes inflate the value of what our friends say, and are inclined to discount what our enemies say; so, if our enemies seem to be telling us something true and good, that counterintuitive situation is an indicator of the rightness of what they are saying.

The musician Jascha Heifetz said: “No matter what side of an argument you're on, you always find some people on your side that you wish were on the other side.” To understand this, one might refer to a phrase circulated on the Internet in 2015: "You're not wrong, you're just an asshole," to which someone coined the fake German word Waltersobchakeit, based on the character Walter Sobchak from the movie "The Big Lebowski." To paraphrase it one more time, the tone in which a statement is delivered can make a true or moral statement seem unpalatable, or, vice versa, a false or immoral statement seem appealing. It is important to cultivate a proper tone. Alfred North Whitehead said, "It is a disease of philosophy when it is neither bold nor humble, but merely a reflection of the temperamental presuppositions of exceptional personalities."

To add yet another dimension: One's history of perceiving a person as generally saying things that are good (or bad) may serve as a reason to forgive (or to refuse to forgive) a one-time deviation from their norm. There is no known word for this.

Sources

Thomas Aquinas, quoted by Mary Daly, The Church and the Second Sex, New York: Harper and Row, 1968. p 15.

William Butler Yeats

Jeff Schmidt. Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System that Shapes Their Lives. (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000) Kindle Edition.

Nikki Stern. Because I Say So: The Dangerous Appeal of Moral Authority. Bascom Hill Books, 2010. p. 47.

Rollo May, Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence, New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1972. p 237.

Jascha Heifetz, quoted in the Associated Press. Quoted in The Week. Aug. 9, 2013. p. 15.

Alfred North Whitehead. Process and Reality. (Originally 1929.) Part 1, Chap. 1, Sect. 6. New York: Harper, 1960. p 24.