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Sun

24

Dec

2006

Why “Good Will Toward Men” Has Become More of a Challenge for Me: My Christmas Thoughts
Sunday, 24 December 2006 03:00
by Andrew Bard Schmookler,

A couple of weeks ago, I did a radio show to Virginia, and after that one in Minnesota, that was framed by these questions:

What are your feelings toward humanity, meaning toward people in general? That is, what do you feel when you look at, or think about, the mass of humankind? What has shaped your feelings? Have they ever changed, and if so what changed them? Are you glad about what you feel toward people generally, or do you wish you felt something different?
In general, my choice of topics for discussion on my radio shows is largely shaped by what issues are alive for me, and this one was no exception. For more than two years, I have struggled with a subtle but deep-seated shift in my underlying sense of people in general.

This was the result of two profound, evidently somewhat traumatic, experiences that came close together.

One was local, where a group of people –and an institution– whom I trusted and for whom I’d had very high regard shocked me by acting in a way that was altogether without integrity and honesty.


But the main cause was the other experience: watching as half my countrymen gave their support to this Bushite regime, well after the evil of these leaders –their dishonesty, their bullying, their arrogance, their utter disregard for any larger good than their own self-aggrandisement– had become starkly visible.

What kind of creatures are these humans, these experiences seem to have caused me to wonder, even below the level of consciousness, when those who seem to be among the best of people will act so dishonorably, and when so large a proportion of humanity can choose the evil and call it good?

I read a book review in the recent October 2 issue of THE NEW REPUBLIC. The book under review was FEAR: ANTI-SEMITISM IN POLAND AFTER AUSCHWITZ, and it tells the shocking story of how –even after the Nazis had been defeated, and the concentration camps liberated– a wave of killings, by ordinary Poles, of the remnant of the Jews still alive in Poland. The review quotes a contemporaneous statement by the Polish journalist, Wincenty Bednarczuk, made in the wake of this “bloodbath”:

“We hypothesized that the frightening tragedy of the Polish Jews would cure the Poles of anti-Semitism. It cannot be any other way, we thought, but that the sight of massacred children and old people must evoke a response of compassion and help…But we didn’t know human nature… It turned out that our notions about mankind were naive. The country surprised us.”
I understood Bednarczuk’s painful surprise.

Since the traumatic discovery of what my own countrymen were willing to embrace –and my subsequent discovery that there is plenty of ugly intolerance and viciousness on both sides of our divided country– I have found myself drawn to reading Jonathan Swift, whose cleverness I’d always appreciated, but whose misanthropic views of our species I’d found repugnant.

Earlier this month, sitting in an airport looking at the throngs of hundreds of people I don’t know, I found my subtly implicit feelings toward those strangers to have a different flavor from what I’ve been accustomed to having all the previous decades of my life. My accustomed feeling has always been fairly open-hearted, appreciative, embracing (albeit in a shy way). But now I found myself feeling more detached, untrusting, vaguely recoiling.

I missed my old feeling. It seemed like a light and warmth of great value had gone out of my life, out of the world. When I asked, on those radio shows, “Are you glad about what you feel toward people generally, or do you wish you felt something different?” I knew from inside what it meant to wish to see my fellow human beings and to feel toward them differently.

And I do believe that something like my old feelings are what I should still strive for. I do not believe that they were simply naive. In my view, the spiritually most enlightened place for a person to reach is one where the evils people do are not what define them in one’s eyes. Not that we are such perfect creatures by nature. But the world is a sick place and we humans are, in various ways, the carriers of the sickness. (My PARABLE OF THE TRIBES offers an explanation of that sickness that does not require any indictment of human nature.) I do believe that, if properly nurtured, people grow into something beautiful. But even if we are not so splendid, we are what we are, we are what we can be.

If I could choose, I would not turn away from knowing fully what is dark in human beings, but I would still regard my fellows with an open and compassionate heart. “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” That sounds to me like wisdom, and it is what I aspire to return to again.

It is likely my own hurt and fear that have pulled me away into my dimmer view of my kind.

That and my confusion. For I’ve been having trouble integrating in my heart what I have experienced of people. (An alternative framing for that radio show was from a different angle:

Has anyone ever surprised you greatly by acting either much better or much worse than the person you thought them to be would act? Have you ever had an important experience of someone you thought basically good did something surprisingly bad? Or an experience where someone you’d written off as a bad person did something unexpectedly fine?

Have you ever struggled to understand the ways that people are mixtures of the good and the not-good?
Living in this fallen world takes a toll on all of us.)

And so for now I will try to regard my own current attitude itself with some compassion and patience– even while I hope that I will heal enough to be able once again to become again more innocent in my heart, even without being naive.

Good will toward men. Not as an acquittal. More simply, as an act of love. For it is love, after all, that ultimately heals us and our world.
 
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Peter Holden said:

0
fresh start for mankind
The only form of love displayed by a majority of mankind today is the love of money and material possessions. Be particularly cautious of those who term themselves "friends"; given the opportunity they will rapidly betray your friendship for personal gain. You are indeed right when you state that the world is a sick place. The only remedy is to treat the disease at its source, that being the greed, dishonesty and hubris displayed by our world leaders. The example they set is both disgusting and depraved. It is also indeed unfortunate that most citizens lack both the common decency and intelligence to reject these criminals and charlatans and their despicable ideals.
 
December 24, 2006
Votes: +0

Jean-David Beyer said:

0
Not all who call themselves "friends" are bad.
The full name of those called Quakers is "The Religious Society of Friends." While they are probably no more saints than anyone else, integrety is one character trait that they value highly, and not just among themselves. One example is that they have set up The American Friends Service Committee that does good work around the world, starting back in World War I, helping those on both sides of that war.
 
December 24, 2006
Votes: +0

Jimmy Montague said:

0
Sauce for the Goose will cook your Gander
I see it should be with you toward the public at large as it is with you toward the fascists in Congress. Just be patient, you advised us, and they'll do something good for us by and by. You have to recognize what's possible, after all, and be willing to settle for that. Otherwise you'll never accomplish anything. So maybe you should write an open letter to Pat Robertson and other leaders of the Christian Right, extending your hand in friendship and in sympathy with their feelings. Maybe they'll do something good for you by and by.

In the meantime, I'd suggest you ponder the fact that unless you and others of your ilk make up your minds to FIGHT these bastards, they're just gonna go right on walking all over the rest of us because that's what they think they're entitled to do. Unless we defeat fascism here at home, the rest of the world will eventually come here and defeat fascism for us. Things for us will then be as things were for the Germans and Italians at the end of World War II.

Was it Reinhold Niebuhr who wrote:

"When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

"When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

"When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

"When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out."

That's the way it will be for you, Schmookler. Doesn't it mean anything to you when guys like Newt Gingrich have the nerve to say in public that it's time we revisited the First Amendment? What DO you suppose he meant by that? My prescription is: Just peeing your pants and wringing your hands in anguish. By and by some bullyboys will come to your house and explain it to you.
 
December 24, 2006 | url
Votes: +0

Andrew Bard Schmookler said:

0
Don't make me into your straw man, Montague
You make it clear how you see me, Mr. Montague, and what you THINK I am trying to do. But that image you have has nothing to do with me, and as I indicated before, I wish to have nothing to do with you. I had thought you had granted me that request, but evidently not.

You show absolutely no understanding of what I say in my writings, and I doubt that your view of the rest of the world is much clearer.

You think that you are more eager to defeat the fascists than I am. I doubt it. You think that you know better how to defeat the fascists than I am. Against that idea, I'd bet the farm.

I see that your home address is "cyanidehole," and indeed there is a toxicity about your whole stance and posture. All you seem able to do is wield the insult and come on in a spirit of contempt and condescension.

In my piece above I refer briefly to my "discovery that there is plenty of ugly intolerance and viciousness on BOTH sides of our divided country." It is experiences like this comment from you that constitute that discovery.

Your toxic rage is something, I know, that I should regard with compassion. It cannot be much fun being so filled with such feelings as you seem to be toward everything that is not essentially just like you. Just in this comment, your contempt and hatred not just for me, but of all our elected officials, and for the people on the Christian right, drip off your words. The world as you see it must be a most ugly and unpleasant and lonely place.

Is there anyone or anything that you love? Can you show us any writing of yours that comes from love and appreciation. Or is your world a place only of hatred and war?

Do you have any plan for how to HEAL and how to REBUILD our country? Can you show us any writing that makes a constructive proposal of any kind? Or is your whole vision consumed with talk of destroying your many enemies?

You have a lot in common with people like Karl Rove and Tom Delay, in that respect. And with them, too, I strive to see them with compassion --as well as with a recognition of how dangerous is the spirit that they bring to the world-- and I do not succeed as well as I'd like.

But really, Montague, if I may make a suggestion: if you have a friend who knows how to read and understand a text --even if it is one that does not completely match his own point of view-- could you perhaps have that friend read what you are responding to, and read what you are proposing to post in response, and give you a clue as to whether you are understanding the other person correctly?

I do not enjoy being attacked on the basis of your distortions.
 
December 24, 2006 | url
Votes: +0

art james said:

0
The Misanthrophy Syndrome
It's when we get to the place we identify with the whole damn human race. It's a peek in the mirror and not liking what we see, also. I understand Jimmy and his acid-bite toward you. Jimmy is meaning No permanent harm. When I 1st looked into Jimmy's cyanide hole web, I'd back0off too, and say Whoo...The more I hear Jimmy, I enjoy. It's acid indigestion, but, it goes away. Jimmy takes a moment for all us to pause and reflect. Jimmy has been ther, done that, helps you/me. It's identification, with few words, for me...A misanthropy condition that forces us to Look, even if we don't like what we See...and have the courage to Not 'cut and run.' The question was asked? Jimmy be a good backup when things get bitter and the road (Trucker) get's slippery or rocky-bumpy. It's gettin' that way. I'd ride 'shotgun' for Jimmy, but, I don't know who stole my grandpapp's Iver Johnson. If I ever found out who stole it, I'd spank him with a noodle. We all need understanding, especially when we get to mistrust our own self/thoughts. The misanthropy syndrome 'hits' hard, then goes away. We all on the road to the 'baone yard.' best we get along and travel together, if possible. These days introduce us all to the best/worst. It's the Misanthropy Syndrome? We can't yell, "stop the global spin, I want off." It's us included in the 'whole damn human race." Chris too introduces us to Jimmy Twain.
 
December 24, 2006 | url
Votes: +0

Jimmy Montague said:

0
I did let you off --
on the other thread. I got tired of arguing with you. That doesn't mean I'm gonna sit around and watch you post drivel without calling it drivel. I'm just not going to argue with you any more.

Notice all the nasties you threw at me? I'm not throwing any back. I've had my say on this thread and now I'm done. That doesn't mean I won't comment on the next one.
 
December 24, 2006 | url
Votes: +0

Andrew Bard Schmookler said:

0
Is it possible for us to discuss the issues rationally
If you believe that some point I make is drivel, I am glad to discuss that. Discussing different points of view is a good way to undercover the truth.

The difficulty I have had with your responses is two-fold: first, your attacks on me seem consistently to attribute to me positions other than those that I have stated; second, your attacks are framed as insults, demeaning me as a person.

Is it possible to present your disagreements without the insults and with greater care to attack only what I actually say, and not what you infer that I must also believe from what I actually say?
 
December 24, 2006 | url
Votes: +0

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