| When I was a child">
| When I was a child">
| When I was a child">
| When I was a child, I unquestioningly took on
the values, likes, and aversions of my parents and my family. Took on their
perception of the world and their response to it and modeled their place in it, as all
children do. When I was an adolescent, I struggled against this modeling, as all
adolescents do -- feeling somehow suffocatingly chained and bound by it, I searched for my
own way, without being able to say this was what I was doing.
Thrashing to get free from my childhood assumptions, I experimented
here and there, willy-nilly, left and right, forward and backward, without much conscious
thought or strategy. I didn't know who I was, where I was going, why I was here, and
I certainly didn't have the skills to become more conscious of how to approach these
things. I had virtually no training in learning how to listen to myself, learn from
myself, investigate and pursue my own values and interests.
Although I was trained very well in how to argue a fine intellectual
point (about a book written 50 years ago) across a round classroom table, I could not
think for myself about any point in my own life. Although I could graph y = 2(x +b)
where b is greater than 3 and less than 5 in PEN, I could not chart the possibilities of
my own future. Although I could dissect a fruit fly with the utmost precision, I
could not even see the color of my own eyes. Although I could run a charge to a
metal plate suspended in salt water to demonstrate electrolytic transfer, I could not
connect to the pulses of my own heart.
I think this was perhaps because, in my early training, I was not
taught to listen to myself. My uniqueness/differentness was not something to
appreciate. Neither was anyone else's. My experience of life had been far more
constructed around which group I belonged to, which people I had similarities with, than
an appreciation for both my uniqueness and others' differentness. At home, at
school, and in other groups, a US/THEM mentality ruled. Those who were
educated, those who were not. Those who intelligent, charming, outgoing, those who
were not. Those who read poetry, those who did not. Those who were politically
involved, those who were not. Those who were professionals, those who were not.
Those who were white, those who were not. Those who were recognized by the press,
those who were not. Those who used good grammar, those who did not. Those who
had ideas, intellectualism, philosophy, those who did not. Those who were academic,
those who were not. So I spent most of my time trying to figure out which group I
could fit in to, and having judgmental blinders on about everybody else, including myself.
When I was a college senior, I was put in a housing group with 10 rabid
vegetarians, committed environmentalists, spiritualists, and peace niks. It was an
intense household, and our daily lives were closely entwined simply because of our
proximity in the house. We all took classes from the same "alternative"
professors, professors who provided a "different" point of
view, professors who had a cause to transmit and a world to save. Amidst the melting
soy cheese of our nightly communal dinners, my personal philosophy was born, shaped, and
reached fruition. It was a philosophy that did not vary too extremely much from
those of my parents and my boyfriend's parents, but it was different enough to be called
my own. For the first time in my personal life, everything came together, united on
all fronts by an overarching intellectual edifice.
Thus was an idealist born. Someone said to me recently that all
young people in their twenties should be idealists. Perhaps. But was that me,
the form that idealism took? Did it reflect who I uniquely/differently was? I
don't think so. I think it was idealism for idealism's sake alone. A valuing
of ideas and philosophies, whatever they were, over reality, over people in real life.
A valuing of actions solely because they corresponded to a vision of a pure world,
a good world, an ideal world, and not because
they corresponded to the real people who inhabit the real world (including myself).
I do my food shopping in Montpelier, where the young people who look
like people from The Community hang out. They're young. They wear those long
ripped pants and their hair in dreadlocks. I remember what it was like to feel like
them, less than a year ago. They're so pure. They're so New Age. They're
so right. They're so full of ideals. Good ideals. Ideals that could save
the world, if only people would listen.
For me, $Y and The Community were the endpoint in that search for
philosophy, for ideas, for ideals. They were the ultimate in idealism, the ultimate
in a pure truth. To follow their dictates was to purely follow a life of the mind,
of ideals. It was the purest expression of how to mold everyday life, society, and
all people into one, unified, perfect doctrine, filled with nothing but peace and goodness
Since leaving, I have been unable to look outside myself for a
philosophy, no matter how attractive, how pure, how ideal, how visionary. The idea
of taking one more super blue green algae tablet as a cure-all no longer attracts me.
In many ways I was let down by philosophy, by ideals and idealism. I came to
see to what end they could be taken, what horrors they could produce, in what ways they
could be twisted. I saw that they could destroy the very people they were designed
to uplift and save, in addition to destroying the people who would not listen to the
message. In fact, some times I see some of my experiences as only one end of an
continuum of idealism that has at its other end the Nazi movement, or, more modernly,
ethnic cleansing under the Serbs.
When one places ideals over people, even for the good of the people, it
can lead to terrible horrors. How are these horrors really different (other than in
magnitude) than myself at age 23, marching with upraised fist on Washington? How are
they different from myself at age 25, arguing with venom the importance of vegetarianism?
How are they different from myself at age 28, struggling to get the best seat, not
behind a column, in order to see the red robed figure who could save everyone with one
glance of grace, knowing that the starving children in Africa just had bad karma?
How is this different from myself at age 31, singing with devotion among the saved
few, the women in poverty whose hair was falling out from lack of nutrition, the children
who were abused in the basement, but who were not bound for the lake of fire as the rest
of the world was (and deserved to be)?
In striving ever more to be pure in our ideals and philosophies, there
comes a point where we must begin to eliminate that (and those) which are not pure,
whether it be from our mental/emotional country or our physical country.
When one places ideals over people, when one takes ideals and
philosophies as the guidepost for one's life, the world of people becomes divided into
categories. Those who agree and those who don't. Those who are like you and
those who aren't. Some and Others. Some are right. Others are wrong.
Some are pure. Others are impure. Some, through right action or right
birth, deserve space and enlightenment. Others deserve their karma, the lake of
fire, starvation, or ethnic cleansing. They lose their individuality and humanity as
quickly as I lost my compassion and my sense of relatedness to the race to which I belong
-- humankind. And when people are Others, they are not people anymore. It is
easier to ignore your ignorance of them, your disgust in them, and your harmful actions,
whether upraised fist, blissed out trance, or machine gun/gas chamber cleanse.
When I think back to when, in my life, I ever used my own heart and
brain to determine my values and responses to the world, I find the closest approximation
to it in those blind struggles as a teenager, or those brief moments of clarity and
happiness we experience sometimes as children. But when I became a card carrying
vegetarian, environmentalist, peace nik -- although it was the first time I felt
"free" of the childhood influences, although I believed I was finally in
possession of a coherent, overarching intellectual philosophy and a set of ideals which
could guide me and also (if they would only listen) the rest of the world -- it was also a
time when I really first let the idealism of the mind totally speak for me and guide me,
and when I really lost a sense of trying to determine what I wanted, just for my own
selfish self, just as a unique individual. Because individuals, people like me, were
not as important as the vision, the ideals, the philosophy.
Since leaving, I have been so amazed by what I can learn and appreciate
from people all around me. Our color and variety is an amazing and precious thing,
as amazing and precious as the myriad of thoughts, feelings, that make up who, as a unique
individual, I am. As I have learned to use critical thinking, I have begun to learn
for once to use my brain to sort out what is important and valuable to me as a unique
individual. As I have allowed myself to start listening to myself (dare I say, to my
heart), instead of to a guru, or group, I have been amazed to discover what a joy it is to
listen to not only myself but to other people in their uniqueness/differentness. The
world is not really made up of groups, after all, but of a myriad of unique individual
people, never to be repeated, as unique and one of a kind as snowflakes, each one
containing a vast treasure of history, feelings, thoughts, and desires.
But when one values ideas more than people, when one places ideals over
people, one opens oneself to charlatans who sexually, mentally, physically, and
emotionally abuse and manipulate people in the name of those ideals (oneness with God,
world peace, human happiness). Charlatans who twist, manipulate, and distort those
ideals. One cannot see past one's own ideal nose to the person charlatan in front of
one. One is not used to looking at people and following one's gut intuition, or
thinking for oneself. One sees only one's ideals and rushes toward whoever promises
to speed those ideals along to fruition. One becomes ready to sacrifice whatever is
necessary to reach the ideals, even if it means sacrificing the people in whose service
the ideals are supposed to exist. Well, only SOME people. . . .
10 Oct 99