And your deep thought from Philosofishal today? An anti-Thanksgiving sort of excerpt from my poem “Nothing I Own” (2010). Inclusion neither constitutes nor forbids endorsement.
And she said to me, “I would give nothing That I own, if asked.” Appalled, I then realized, Mine is worse, or no better, for I would own nothing So as not to feel obliged.
copyright © C. L. Tangenberg
Looking at just this part of the poem with fresh eyes and new cultural context, I think I’ll file it under Nativism–in all senses of the word. Or Socialism or Communism. Or just re-title it. Or maybe False Freedom. Relativity? Solipsism? Extremism? Bald-faced Sin? Excuses? Seeds of Evil?
But, well . . . how to choose?
Does the first speaker mean she would give only when NOT asked? I.e., it has to be her choice, her original idea? Or, does she really mean she’s keeping it all to herself always?
Is the second speaker, because she is the “I,” the person whose perspective the poem is most squarely about? That would seem to indicate which title fits best.
And yet, can we trust her statement? Are the motivations we claim to have really those we hold? Are the ones we actively claim really the most active among our reasons? How much does social pressure shape our response?
Can there be light, as in true enlightenment, without closely examining the darkness?
Not recalling the rest, can I really analyze only part of a poem, even my own poem, with any authority? How much does context matter? Some say it’s everything. I don’t go quite that far, but it is significant.
So, in order to know what’s at the heart of the art, what message might emerge from the words, you really have to read the whole thing and, in so doing, seek to learn things like:
- What else was said? What was happening? What is their history? Who are they?
- Are they both speaking freely or under duress, or is one dominating the other?
- Is the speech itself merely an instrument of a different, hidden purpose? Is that better or worse? Does she like or dislike her audience?
- Is it a contest to see who is worse? Americans are generally pretty attached to those.
- Do they mean what they say, or are they just afraid somehow to be honest?
- Which is speaking–the authentic self or the wounded inner child?
- How mistreated do you have to be to feel the need to avoid others at all costs or reap punishment for self-absorption?
- Is this their way to ensure they get nothing themselves, a sign of self-hatred?
I know. You’ll say I’m reading too much into it, but I’m not really seeing one conclusion or another at all. It’s been too long since I read the whole poem. I’m asking. Because I don’t have the answers. It’s an examination of a small corner of the possibilities of human psychology, social morality, and subjective truths.
So how can I judge? How can you? What can we really know?
If we don’t know what to conclude, there seem to be two active responses open to us. (I’ll get to the passive ones farther down.)
- Find out more in order to judge properly, if possible, or
- Simply be more open to revelations and to getting it wrong, more tolerant of the lives we are not living in the skins that are not ours, and withhold judgment, learning from the outcomes in the process.
This second option may seem passive, but it is active when it takes skill in self-control to achieve openness, humility, tolerance, and restraint, greater skill than it takes to shout our precipitous verdict from on high.
I try to do the first–investigate–when I can and when I feel it is important to, but I know the effort is often fruitless, takes a lot of time and thought, and rarely aligns with the personal goals that matter more to me, where my energy is better spent. Which leaves the second way.
The active withholding of a decision when you know you’re missing vital information to make it wisely is actually rather wise.
So if it’s not our literal job (yes, literal meaning actual earning of an income to feed oneself and one’s family) to judge something, or if it is our job to know what the heck we’re doing, then what legitimate basis (let alone right) do we have to label someone, to declare a just course, to say what should or should not be done, when knowledge is nowhere to be found?
True freedom is to be measured by what we allow other people in our midst to be and do, not by how free the judging of them makes us feel. A free society must evolve from citizens freeing one another. But do we love liberty or each other enough to evolve into that society? Or, do too many of us prefer the hollow promise of equality and the illusion of government protection to a freedom that demands more individual responsibility?
People seem to love to claim they are holier than thou, which belies any claim to love equality. All claims require basis in fact to be true. And what fact do you know about yourself that cannot be legitimately disputed by those who know you relatively well?
Think about it. All the things we’re most sure of about ourselves–the ones that aren’t patently obvious and therefore unimportant–are often the most objectively questionable. So “Let he among us without sin be the first to condemn” actually means “How dare you condemn, you hypocrite!” There should be no “first” because there is none without sin.
A passive response to not knowing what to make of things, whether it takes the form of forever ignoring a fundamental life question or choosing an arbitrary answer, is more unconscionable to me than the highly visible sins being judged in the first place.
So it has to be either judge wisely or don’t judge, but can such a non-judgmental approach work for everyone, in every role in life?
Can a president, for instance, afford to suspend judgment or be uncertain–ever?
Sure, they have to project a strong front to ward off threats to the country. Frankly, though, and yes, in ironic judgment, I find a publicized persona of sustained high confidence–along with rote, platitudinous rhetoric–in political leaders to be a sign of idiocy and incompetence, not to mention dishonesty. Verdict read. So apparently, the only people I judge harshly and permanently are the judgmental, or those who seem to have more confidence than I. 😉
But in all seriousness: However covertly or discreetly displayed, without actual humility and openness, meaning the capacity to learn, improve, and course-correct, a leader is lost. And what does that make the leader’s country?