Monday, April 18, 2011

Drinking the Mortal Brew: You've Got To Tolerate All Those People That You Hate

"We honor our characters as if they were distinctive to ourselves, whether we have worthy characters snd are admired by men or not. Therefore, We must esteem the characters of our neighbors, if they are friendly to us."-Epicurus, 7th Vatican Saying.

I love Epicurus's qualifiers: "If they are friendly to us".

Loving your enemies can be tiresome. You don't have to hate them, mind you (that can be even more exhausting), but loving them requires a huge investment that doesn't promise any returns; and besides, how many of us who attempt to 'love' our enemies really act as if we love them? How often is the love we feel for those who hate us really either just a self-aggrandizing veneer, or a sharp tool we use to beat ourselves down with when we realize that we are incapable of wishing well those who wish us ill? Why not just be honest about it?

Instead of choosing one or the other emotional extreme, Epicurus advocated that we tolerate the personality traits of those we encounter that do us no real harm, and as pertains to the other poles, I guess it's carte blanche. Destroy your enemies and love your friends to your heart's content. I endorse this position.

It may sound cold to advocate the destruction of your enemies, but sometimes it is necessary. And consider this: one of the best and most effective way of destroying your enemies is to turn them into friends. Discovering a mutual self-interest with an enemy can take you far away from a situation that would undoubtedly lead to much pain and suffering for both parties if it were allowed to escalate.

The genius and realism of Epicurus is notable in this Vatican saying: rather than calling us to strive for some kind of unrealistic ethereal ideal, he suggests that we understand our more carnal aspects. The poet Robert Bly has a lot to say about the way in which we unrealistically deal with our carnal aspects in his wonderful essay 'The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us':

"Behind us we have an invisible bag, and the part of us our parents don’t like, we, to keep our parents’ love, put in the bag. By the time we go to school our bag is quite large. Then our teachers have their say: “Good children don’t get angry over such little things.” So we take our anger and put it in the bag. By the time my brother and I were twelve in Madison, Minnesota we were known as “the nice Bly boys.” Our bags were already a mile long.

Then we do a lot of bag-stuffing in high school. This time it’s no longer the evil grownups that pressure us, but people our own age."

he then adds what the consequences of all of this stuffing-into-the-bag is:

"We spend our life until we’re twenty deciding what parts of ourself to put into the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again. Sometimes retrieving them feels impossible, as if the bag were sealed. Suppose the bag remains sealed-what happens then? A great nineteenth-century story has an idea about that. One night Robert Louis Stevenson woke up and told his wife a bit of a dream he’d just had. She urged him to write it down; he did, and it became “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” The nice side of the personality becomes, in our idealistic culture, nicer and nicer. The Western man may be a liberal doctor, for example, always thinking about the good of others. Morally and ethically he is wonderful. But the substance in the bag takes on a personality of its own; it can’t be ignored. The story says that the substance locked in the bag appears one day somewhere else in the city. The substance in the bag feels angry, and when you see it it is shaped like an ape, and moves like an ape.

The story says then that when we put a part of ourselves in the bag it regresses. It de-evolves toward barbarism. Suppose a young man seals a bag at twenty and then waits fifteen or twenty years before he opens it again. What will he find? Sadly, the sexuality, the wildness, the impulsiveness, the anger, the freedom he put in have all regressed; they are not only primitive in mood, they are hostile to the person who opens the bag. The man who opens his bag at forty-five or the woman who opens her bag rightly feels fear. She glances up and sees the shadow of an ape passing along the alley wall; anyone seeing that would be frightened."

that essay can be found in a book by Bly called 'A Little Book on the Human Shadow', and I recommend it.

The message of Epicurus and Robert Bly is pretty clear here: Be honest about your shit, and deal with it honestly.

It's much less scary that way, and the results you get will be infinitely better.

3 comments:

Lodo Grdzak said...

Or as Roger Waters might say, "All in all its just another brick in the wall."

Good post Spence. Like the message.

the elegant ape said...

I'm Not OK, You're Not OK, and That's OK....

Willie Y said...

“Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.”

Spencer Johnson