Monday, November 21, 2011

Ask yourself


I, too, could take sides and share pictures of the violence. But being superior to no one and inferior to no one, I look at my own heart and behavior instead, and see the victim and perpetrator there. I also see a tragic, beautiful thing called the human race, traveling through space, one part galaxy, another part rock — dust, flesh, and sun combined. Whom shall I despise? Those who pull the trigger, or those who teach their children that there will always be guns in the world? Those who steal in large amounts, or those who steal in small? To be fair, would I not have to despise everyone, including myself? When was the last time you left food on your plate; took advantage of someone; were inattentive or cruel to loved ones or friends; accepted pay for less than your best work? Ask yourself. If you do, you will understand the repetitive cycle of human events. You will recognize yourself in those who are in positions of wealth and power, and in the whores and panhandlers it is so convenient to shun. No, I will not take sides. Because there is only one. It is either we or none.


19 comments:

Transcend Designs said...

beautifully said...

it truly lies within

each and every one of us...

William Michaelian said...

Thank you, Brad.

Joseph Hutchison said...

This is an admirable if curious post, William. I like to think I understand it—but there seems to be a contradiction at its heart. I read your last sentence as asserting “solidarity,” in the humanistic sense, and yes, “nothing human is alien to me,” etc. But solidarity doesn’t mean “not taking sides.” I think of Camus, for whom solidarity was both an existential and a historical value. His commitment didn’t keep him from joining the Resistance, which he saw—and I see—as an extension of that commitment. Doesn’t solidarity require opposition to those who would destroy solidarity by shooting pepper spray into the faces of peacefully protesting students, destroying thousands of donated library books, busting unions, suppressing voter turnout among the poor, etc.? Solidarity requires taking a side, it seems to me. Of course, one has to do it without indulging in self-congratulation or the almost prurient pleasure some people take in images of violence. Even William Stafford, a pacifist during WWII, viewed his stance as an expression of solidarity—one which demanded not passivity but peaceful resistance. Based on their writings, I’d say that both Camus and Stafford understood their resistance as an opposition to the anti-solidarity forces in themselves and in the world, which is the crux of the humanist commitment, isn’t it?

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Joe. Really, I see nothing admirable or curious about this post. I share it as I do any drawing, poem, or notebook entry, as a statement of where I am at the moment, with all the limitations that implies. Simply, I feel it’s necessary to recognize the root of our problems and take responsibility for it. Sure, it’s possible that we, as humans, are condemned to repeating our mistakes. But I like to think, in my own starry-eyed fashion, that the opposite is also possible. I don’t claim to be a practical thinker. I just know how I feel, and how things appear to me at the moment. In order to take responsibility for my actions, must I first know what Stafford and Camus, as talented, intelligent, and well-meaning as they were, thought and did? Can I not see directly into the matter myself? And how do we define action? Isn’t taking responsibility and trying to live a better life a form of action? I’m as sickened as anyone by the images of “peacefully protesting students” being shot with pepper spray. But this kind of thing will always go on if those same students, and the rest of us, don’t recognize how it comes about in the first place. There is much more to this world than defeating the bad guys. The bad guys, as rotten as they are, are in desperate need of help. And we can’t help them if we hate them, or feel superior to them, no matter the havoc they wreak. They were kids once, just like you and me. Now they bully the world because our self-ignorance and complacency have allowed it. And until we occupy ourselves, so to speak, there will always be others to take their place. War, politics, “sides,” etc., are surface phenomena. They originate in our minds. If we’re wired for such ignorance, then there is little hope. But if our wiring also contains the wisdom to see beyond it, what better time to act?

Brent said...

William, you've delved into the heart of the problem in my opinion. I'm distrustful of "sides" as to me it reeks of the same games that have been popular for some time. "us against them" Any organization that villianizes those who would question them or not join them makes me very uncomfortable. Humanity has many problems, but we all had a hand in creating them. Wall Street only profits by giving the public what it will pay for, and I'm certain there are many fine people working there (as there are not so fine people, as with any group)The police problem is an old one, and not caused by this movement, only exaggerated because the police are no doubt uncomfortable and out of their element. We don't hire policemen for their passivity. Mind you, I despise this, but such is the state of things. Blaming one group seems short sighted, as we are all involved. Personally I can only take responsibility for myself and won't be told that joining any group is necessary to prove that I care about others.Obviously, anyone who feels joining a movement is what makes sense for them should do so, but it is not the only valid choice of two choices.

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Brent. It seems we’ve both reiterated my earlier piece, Revolution. One thing that bugs me about the current scene (although, really, there has ever been and only remains one scene), is something Joe referred to when he said, “Of course, one has to do it without indulging in self-congratulation or the almost prurient pleasure some people take in images of violence.” It seems clear that many people who post these images haven’t really thought their actions through, beyond using them as another way to get attention, or to appear aligned with something noble or larger than themselves. That’s not the case with everyone, obviously. But it’s important to remember that everything we post, say, and do, is open to interpretation. As writers, that’s something we live with every day and should be acutely aware of.

Joseph Hutchison said...

I don't mean to suggest dividing the world into bad guys and good guys. It's that kind of dualist thinking that we're saturated with at the moment. The OWS folks in New York have openly invited police to join them, and some (mostly retired ones, I believe) have done so, just as a number of Iraq/Afghanistan vets have joined. I'm not sure this even qualifies as "switching sides," but it does qualify, in my opinion, as embracing solidarity as opposed to the insularity of those who thrive in the current power structure. On the other hand, there are deeper forces at work—economic, psychological—that scare me, too, and that complicate the question of "joining" anything. One's ultimate obligation is to one's own conscience, as both Camus and Stafford showed; in Stafford's case, that involved expressly refusing to join, which in itself was "taking a side."

William Michaelian said...

I think the ultimate obligation is to know oneself, or at least to die trying. Even acting in good and clear conscience, we can do terrible damage.

Also, my reference to “bad guys” wasn’t in any way meant to trivialize your view, which I feel is thoughtful and very well expressed.

I think we’re both aware that in all of our public exchanges, whatever the subject matter, we are not writing or speaking only to each other, but to anyone who might be listening or looking in. If what we say survives, the interpretation of it will change, just as there are probably several interpretations of the lives and actions of Camus and Stafford. Imagine what we do this moment coming to define us!

I thank you once again.

rahina q.h. said...

interesting to read the comments above but as more thoughts are added to the original post, it becomes laden and heavy and crushed like a flower trying to grow in its own right... perhaps reality doesn't play in its realms, like a song sung from the heart, it touches us all and is more powerful in its simplicity....

William Michaelian said...

Thanks very much, Rahina. I’m glad you feel that way. There have been times that I’ve felt certain comments, including some I’ve made myself, have compromised a piece and/or proven a distraction. In this particular case, in responding to Joe and Brent, I’ve basically restated the piece itself, and, by extension, the “Revolution” entry linked above. I would rather not have, but perhaps our exchange indicates a weakness in “Ask yourself.” Although it could as well indicate a strength. I simply don’t know. I share a piece, and what happens, happens, and I’m grateful for it. Also, for what it’s worth, I’ve been ill these past few days with a bad sinus condition, fever, and cough. That was the case when I wrote the entry, and also during our exchange. It continues this morning. Would I have written differently in health? Would I have not written the piece at all? And how would I have responded to comments had I been feeling better? Again, I don’t know. I’m just glad there are people like you and Joe and Brent and Brad who care.

RUDHI - Chance said...

My conclusion too, dear William!

William Michaelian said...

Thank you, my inimitable friend in Zen!

Brent said...

I don't see any weakness in the piece indicated. The fact that it prompted a brief dialogue outside the for and against morass is a plus in my book. ALthough, it could certainly stand on its own just fine.

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Brent. Really, I like that the whole thing is a little out of our control. Writing wouldn’t be much fun otherwise.

Tàne Mar said...

The conversation only expanded/enhanced the initial entry, beautiful in itself. It touched on so many complex facets and internal struggles of mankind. "Ask yourself" should be a state of mind, in my humble opinion. Thank you, William.

William Michaelian said...

Thank you, Tanya. That’s a beautiful thought and I appreciate it. The more I think about it and live with it, I’m glad things have unfolded the way they have. At the moment I wish I felt a little better and could better express my thanks to everyone who has commented on and shared this entry. It amazes me. But even illness is a teacher and a blessing.

Aleks said...

neah....let it be Sandra....

Sandi Peterson said...

Much evidence exists that supports theories of Karma & reincarnation; Judgment - it makes excellent sense - "The Equalizer".

Recent findings indicate that millions of years ago earth was devastated by some sort of nuclear catastrophe.

Try looking at it this way, maybe this is payback; the reason we're here witnessing these end times is because we were the ones who caused all the pain & suffering the last end times.

William Michaelian said...

Thanks very much, Sandi. Either way, being aware of and taking responsibility for our actions will benefit us now and in the future.