Thursday, September 22, 2005

An Invitation to have the time of your life

This musical event will be a thrilling, educational time that will include criticism--through comments and song-- of the contempt that is at the root of both the racism and economic injustice that is hurting life all over the world:

The Great Fight of Ego vs. Truth-- Songs About Love, Justice, & Everybody's Feelings!
Don't miss it!

Learning to Respect

This letter has just been published in the UK.
Learning to Respect
The brutal, horrific bombings in London caused the killing and injuring of so many innocent people.
Now there is increased fear in people all over England, and even in New York City, where I now live and work
I know I have felt it. Adding to the pain of this awful situation is the increase in prejudice towards and even attacks against people who look Middle Eastern or South-East Asian.
As Britain is in turmoil, and police and government leaders question what security measure to take and community leaders discuss how to bring together those of different backgrounds, it is crucial to know what the real enemy is. Yes, clearly it is people who would perpetrate such heinous acts, as those of July 7, and those who incite and fund them. But a question is, what could drive someone to do such a thing?
The philosopher Eli Siegel, founder of the education Aesthetic Realism, got to grips with evil where it begins in the thoughts of every person when he wrote: "As soon as you have contempt, as soon as you don't want to see another person as having the fullness that you have, you can rob that person, hurt that person, kill that person." (
My contempt had me look down on people whose skin colour was different from mine. I regret this very much, and I am thankful that through studying Aesthetic Realism I'm seeing what true kindness is and where I didn't have it.
Every person, I have learned, is in a constant debate about whether to have respect for the world or contempt, the building up of oneself through the lessening of the world. Contempt must be defeated, Siegel said, if people are to be kind. Any person who could plan or carry out a bombing attack leading to the death and maiming of others has to see them as two-dimensional, without real feelings like his own. But this callousness doesn't appear suddenly; it goes on quietly in a person's inner thoughts. A Londoner can think a person from Somerset is not too bright just because of his or her accent. A Northerner can see a Southerner as a snob as soon as he opens his mouth. Someone attending Oxford, as I did, can look down on anyone who isn't. This ugly way of seeing, in an ordinary citizen or a prime minister, can lead to the worst horrors in history and today if it is not opposed.
What is urgently needed, in order to provide real security, is the study by everyone, from schoolchildren all the way up to government leaders, of what it means to see that another person has thoughts and depths as real, as deep as your own. This is the greatest countering of cruelty that can be.
Aesthetic Realism provides a practical, effective method for beginning to do this: "Write a 500-word soliloquy of that person; write as that person might speak to himself; try to describe his thoughts, hopes, fears." The Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, Ellen Reiss, suggested this be done by those on opposite sides of a conflict, such as Israelis and Palestinians.
In the predominantly Hispanic school I taught in several years ago, the Asian pupils were being forced to run a gauntlet of kicks and punches on their way into school after lunch. After I had the older pupils -- the ones I taught at that time -- write 500 words, imagining they were recent immigrants like the Asian students, the bullying stopped immediately.
Having written such soliloquies myself I know firsthand that it always makes you kinder. You see another person has depths, feelings that without fully knowing it, you had robbed them of.
I am sure that if community and government leaders arranged for these to be written -- and wrote soliloquies themselves -- there would be an immediate, widespread, increase in real understanding and kindness. Even if the most hardened, bitter persons did not change, the overwhelming majority of people would simply care more about other members of the public, whatever their background, colour, race, or religion --and this would be the greatest help of all to security.
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