After this century began, I had the pleasure of reading an anthology of short-stories, stories that implicated the human role in the larger scheme of existence. Is human life an absurd situation, or is there any inherent purpose in life, at all? For a guy who, at the time, didn’t have any formal college education, the old dusty book posited interesting questions about how people behave in ways so that life has meaning. That struck me as very interesting! The book, published in 1963, is called The Existential Imagination. Many copies of the book are still available via Amazon.com and for as little as a penny (shipping and handling, is extra). Need I mention, I’ve owned three copies over the years?
There are many good stories in the book regarding issues unique to the human condition. I don’t necessarily have any favorite story because they are all good for very different reasons. I would like to share the plot from one of the stories, here, and hopefully it allows you to ponder about any philosophical or theological implications thereafter. Hopefully, you are curious enough to go buy a copy, then read the rest of the book yourself.
The story that I mean to share is called Saint Emmanuel The Good, Martyr. It is the longest story of the anthology at around 35-pages. It’s written in the form of a fictional memoir, a letter found by the true author. The letter is an account of an Italian woman, Angelita, who takes the reader through her life, beginning as a young girl who entered convent school – at her brothers bidding. She spends five years there – until at age 15 – before returning to her village, Valverde de Lucerna. There she introduces us to the true protagonist in her memoir: Don Manuel, the priest in her beloved village.
The Don is described as a healer, a saint, who chopped wood for the poor, the protector, and nourishment to the village. He is kind to all – favoring “the most unfortunate…especially those who rebelled” (102).
One of my favorite quotes came from this story. It’s great advice even if stemming from a work of fiction. It reads:
“We should concern ourselves less with what people are trying to tell us than with what they tell us without trying” – Don Manuel
Angelita, also wrote about a time when a man in the village sent his boy out into the woods in a heavy rainstorm to fetch a loosed calf. The Don, saw the boy wandering near the trees, so he went out in the heavy rain to inquire why the boy was out at such a dangerous time. The boy explained, his father sent him out for a lost calf, whereafter listening, the Don sends the boy home. He explained he would locate the calf and bring it home for him. Upon returning to the boys home (with the calf) the father went out to meet the Don, who was soaking wet. The man, Angelita wrote, was thoroughly ashamed of himself.
The story builds to denouement once Angelita’s brother, Lazarus, returns home from America. Lazarus was not Catholic, and further did not believe in God. However, Don Manuel and Lazarus spend so much time together that after Angelita’s mom died, Lazarus chose to take communion, thereby converting to Catholicism. The village rejoices, and because, Don Manuel, had yet again, performed a miracle!
Later in the evening, Angelita finds herself alone with her brother, to whom she asks, “What things did Don Manuel state to you, that caused this conversion?” She hugs him. Lazarus finally replied that he only did so for the people, not because he himself believed, nor to seek eternal life. The Don implored him to take up religious life so to set a good example for the people, by taking part in religious community life. But Lazarus explains solemnly, that he also asked the Don, why he seemed to ask that he live a lie, adding, “Do you, believe, Don Manuel?” The Don, looking out over the lake, silently wept. After a few moments, the Don said:
“The truth, Lazarus, is perhaps something so unbearable, so terrible, so deadly, that simple people could not live with it,” and, “I am put here to give life… to make [people] happy, to make them dream they are immortal – and not to destroy them. The important
thing is that they live sanely, in accord with eachother…with my truth they could not live at all…”, “…let them live…”, “with the illusion that all this has a purpose” (120).
So, there were tough questions, indeed, utilizing deep human conflict, one that many people have grappled with over the millennia. I, too, have often looked to the stars, asked my elders, and sought the answer to the very questions this story outlines, namely, Is there a God, and what does that mean for us? If there is no God, what then? Is life a pointless marathon unto death? Maybe it’s not so bad that we are left to answer this question alone? The greater point is that it’s a wonderful journey trying to figure it out for yourself. As I believe Don Manuel would say: At times, you might feel sad, or liberated when pondering the meaning of existing only a short while. Life may seem very lonely in that view. Whatever answers you come to, I’m sure you will be fine when choosing to live for others; according to one priest, it is exactly the same as living for God.
1.Karl, Frederick R., and Leo Hamalian, eds. (1963). “The Existential Imagination.” First Premier Books/Fawcett. NY
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Tags: ''self'', Art, community, conscience, Culture, Dostoevsky, Existentialism, GOD, Love, Mind, Peace, philosophy, psychology, religion, Sartre, self~aware, Shakespeare, Social Learning Theory, social science, sociology, thought
CONSTRUCTS of REALITY
IN LIFE THERE ARE MANY EVENTS that force us to redefine our reality. Think back to that childhood moment when you realized that Disneyland was in California, and that California was over a thousand miles away, or that Santa Claus did not exist! What was to be done with that “new” information? How are white lies incorporated into our morality – especially the one about an elderly do-gooder, dressed in red, who sneaks into our houses to leave gifts and eat our cookies? What is realized when we come to understand mom and dad aren’t going to pack away the family for a week of fun in California when simply getting to school some days remains a challenge?
Aside from these seemingly trivial matters, I’m sure we have all had thoughts along these lines, shared the developmental milestones that opened our consciousness to a society filled with grey areas and the realization that the “real world” is sneakier than we imagined. Obtaining what we want in life – for many of us – begins exactly with a strangely dressed bearded fellow purportedly steering a reindeer sleigh – and evolves into truth: success takes time, patience, hard work, which includes a lot of planning – not simply socially accepted behaviors as reinforced through economic coercion and wrapped gifts. Additionally, these consciousness milestones allow us to question deep-seated cultural and family practices such as bases for religious ceremonies and customs, and a belief in a single immortal being whether called God, Jesus, Great Spirit, Allah, or Yahweh.
With religious ideas, it can become less clear with age just how to maintain these conflicting precepts, especially in our busy lives. Also, the more intelligent we Earthlings become, the less we can honestly conceptualize any divine place. For instance, we now know with complete certainty that “heaven” is not a place behind the clouds, and the “underworld” is neither a place below the Earth’s crust, yet these facts still have the strength to tug at our sense of place and at our family or cultural loyalties – more so than when we discovered it was our lactose intolerant dad who would drink the milk we set out for the burglar we called Santa; and that mom and dad were, in fact, collectively, Santa !
It’s true, no matter the constructs of our beliefs (or disbeliefs) – these ideas are our own. So long as these ideas do not advocate hatred or violence we do ourselves and our communities a service by welcoming diverse views of the world. After all, we can never honestly know how difficult it is (or has been) for those who maintain or adopt ideas we know to be false. Fresh ideas push evolution in consciousness – as our loss of Santa and the knowledge we would never reach Disneyland did. We are a better people without the illusions, and a more empowered people knowing we can influence the mindset of future generations. What do you think? What do you believe?
VIOLENCE IS A VERY COSTLY SYMPTOM of a more acute set of problems. Every violent act has ingredients, roots, branches, and results, and sometimes they are ongoing. It is at certain periods in our development that predilection to violence seeks to assert itself. Indeed, violence is “default programming”, vital to early human survival and presents when the self is endangered.
Our perceptions can be fooled, thus, to be at our rational best, our sense of reality must align with our emotionality.
What can be done to restrict irrational violence, and when?
If we eliminate genetic predisposition/gender factors, perhaps personality factors (sociopathy, psychopathy) we divest a large number of males from scrutiny as producers of violence–particularly males from fatherless homes and having had a parental, or co-substance abuse history. As the foregoing characteristics are factors unique to individuals, we do not review them here although they are specific ingredients of violent criminality as the overview would be infinitely broad. Moreover, we will not discuss spontaneous acts (mob violence/roits) concentrating upon developed violence as adopted behavior through lenses of: social strain, socio-economic factors, social relationships, peers, media violence, and culture, and not individual traits, which are unique anomalies.
Social Relationship and Crime
Setting aside nuances of personality and biological defecit, our resulting assumption is that violence is learned without it having to be taught. Thus, violence is preventable as much as predictable, as it is cultivated through ones peer-associations and social environment.
Peer groups, clubs, and cultures possess particular “values, norms, beliefs, and technical knowledge”, “socializing forces”, as from a classroom, religious affiliation, or gang. It’s the cherished anti-social ideas/traits that coalesce as a set of sub-cultural ingredients from which violence (and crime) becomes incubated (Jensen, 2007).
We largely obtain our behaviors via interaction, imitation, and guidance (reinforcement) not through Tabula Raza solitary meditation in a cave, thus , consider the following hints from which you could reduce violence in our world.
• Be aware of how we introduce/place our progeny at the outset of life, as learning is very difficult to overwrite;
• Structure stimuli around low-violence activities. Violent video games, movies need to be minimized as they tend to desensitize to violence;
• Instruct upon appropriate responses to bullying, teasing, self-defense parameters, and alienation. This reduces reliance on instinctive aggression;
• Model prosociality; that is, the expected behaviors in situations, even if parents have to create a sham situation (role-play) to provision opportunity for cognitive absorption.
Recalling these concepts over time will insulate against social pressure and individual susceptibility that sometimes turns into rage, or the mind-emotion imbalance.
General/Social Strain and Crime
According to David Farrington, in Origins of Violent Behavior Over the Lifespan (2007), low socio-economic status, intergenerational exposure to disrupted families, and life within neglected neighborhoods are contributors to what is termed as, strain, or social strain. These many types of strains- often beyond individual control-create an atmosphere of stress and hypervigilance when commingled, too much of any negative experience will frustrate the best of us given sufficient time. Multiple strains upon legitimate opportunity lends itself to improvised, non-conformist short-cutting called crime or violence, as a means to gain a foot up (see the post below re: ROBERT MERTON). Resulting in higher crime rates and intergenerational lapses, perpetuating cycles of violence and victimization.
The notions here, are nevertheless built upon lifestyle and choice: individual factors which have a ripple effect in society. While this may seem an oversimplification, upon initial review, we may recognize susceptibility in our lives, despite any freedom of choice or free will argument. Nevertheless, we can adjust our range of lifestyle factors to minimize risk of becoming victims, and reduce contribution to violence by not being a passive ingredient in its development.
The point here was simply to reiterate the importance of individual relations and the subsequent impressions we leave in our communities as crafters of our own violence. Whichever the excuse: time is money, there doesn’t seem to be enough of one parent to go around, or walking the streets at night is cool, etc. Upon deeper inspection of our reality we may find this to be untrue. We CAN adapt to 3-less work hours per-week so as to ref a flag-football game, or share a pizza to foster bonds with those around us, and stop jogging at midnight. We reduce violence by sharing our attention, laughing, and letting someone know they are important in our eyes, and being responsible knowing our behavior affects others.
Transcend any personal defecit through investment in other people. Watch your energy reduce violence, crime, and victimization. Our result in mind must be taught.
Flannery, D., Alexander Vazsonyi and Irwin Waldman, eds. CAMBRIDGE HANDBOOK of VIOLENT BEHAVIOR and AGGRESSION. N.Y. Cambridge, UP (2007)
JENSEN, G., SOCIAL LEARNING and VIOLENT BEHAVIOR. (2007) 636-64