Reprinted from:
November 10, 1998
Learn how marriage can
succeed in a failed economy
By Barbara Allen 

     From coast to coast, marriages are suffering because of the failed economy. Women are speaking like this wife of twenty-five years, whose husband lost his job; she is quoted in an article in New York Newsday: "We fight all the time now. The littlest thing sets us off....My husband is...depressed. He’s angry....We’re at each other’s throats all the time. Sometimes, I wonder if we’re going to make it." The Newsday article is an instance of the boycott of Aesthetic Realism by the press — which, while writing of people’s pain, keeps from them the kind, beautiful answer to it. 

     In 1970, Eli Siegel, the great American educator and founder of Aesthetic Realism, explained that an economy based on contempt for people, on using them for profit, has failed. Aesthetic Realism also shows that the very same thing which has made our economy fail is what causes marriages to fail: contempt for the world and another person — for the purpose of marriage is to like the world. In the article "Ethics — the Only Answer for the Economy!," printed as an ad in the New York Times, Ellen Reiss and the Aesthetic Realism consultants and consultants-in-training say: 

    For someone to make a profit from the work of other people — for a person to get the money that other people earned with their bodies and minds — is contempt. And for a man or woman who could be useful, who could do or make things that others need, to be out of work because no one can make a profit from that man or woman — is ugly, brutal contempt.
     Instead of being inaccurately angry with each other, husbands and wives need to see what they are really angry about. And they need to use marriage as a means of caring that justice come to all people. In an Aesthetic Realism class, Ellen Reiss, the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, explained: "People use the economy to hate the world; and when you are disliking the world you cannot like a representative of the world whom you happen to be married to." She said the chief reason husbands and wives are hurting each other more as the economy fails is that they "like the world less — but they could like it more if they really saw what this [economic failure] is about." 

     That is what women are learning in Aesthetic Realism consultations — and their marriages are becoming kinder, passionate, really succeeding. 

I Changed the Way I Saw People
      I grew up in the Midwest in a middle class home, and — like many people — felt that as long as our family was doing all right and I was comfortable, it didn’t much matter what other persons went through. Then, money became very tight, so I needed to work to get through college. 

     I began to work in a factory, and got a little sense of what people had to endure: up to 120 degree heat; speeded-up assembly lines; husbands and wives working different shifts so one of them could take care of the children, and hardly seeing each other. This was in Motorola’s Franklin Park plant, and there was no union. In the summers of 1963-65, I was paid, as I remember, first $1.62 and later $2.62 an hour. In 1964, the color TV sets we made were selling for at least $695, and the line of about 24 people made ultimately 20 sets an hour. We did not see that money — some stockholders and owners, who never lifted a solder gun, did. People often fainted because of the heat; and one day we heard that a man’s leg was caught in a conveyor belt and he died. Yet even as I experienced firsthand what an unjust economic system does to lives, the scorn with which I saw people didn’t change. 

     Then, on May 22, 1970, one week after I attended my first Aesthetic Realism class, I heard Eli Siegel, the kindest man who ever lived, explain: 

    What is being shown today is that without good will, the toughest, most inconsiderate of activities — economics — cannot do so well....This is the greatest victory of good will in history.
     In Aesthetic Realism classes I learned about my own attitude to people, and saw it was like that of the owners of Motorola. In one class, Mr. Siegel said: "[You feel] if you are around, people will do things for you, and you expect them to." I remembered that as a child it didn’t even cross my mind to be grateful for the flute lessons I got, the clothing my mother made late into the night, the food that was on the table every day. And later, it was more important to me to have a man do what I wanted than to see what he felt or deserved. This attitude made me cold, hard, and unable to love anyone. I am so grateful that Aesthetic Realism broke through the ice in which I had encased myself! 

     Mr. Siegel explained: "There is a great reluctance to give an inside life to other people. We feel we’re the only persons who have an inside. That has made for a great deal of pain....Do you feel that you give [others] as much internal mystery as you have?" I did not; and I love Eli Siegel for freeing my mind to see what other people feel! 

A Wife Becomes Kinder
     I tell now of an Aesthetic Realism consultation that a representative American, Mrs. Marianne DiCarlo, had by telephone from her home in Montauk, Long Island, with her four-month-old baby sleeping nearby. She told her consultation trio that her husband, Tom, doesn’t know from week to week whether he will have his job. They just bought a house, and the baby, Tony, needs a new crib. She said, "I don’t know if I have a job next year [teaching]. Our school is being closed....I’ve been having a lot of built-up anger, and my husband is feeling it." 

    We heard in Mrs. DiCarlo’s voice a tired sadness; and we asked: "Do you think you have been using [what you’re meeting] to feel life is too much—to go into yourself and feel that is the most comforting place?" She answered, "I’ve done that. You hit the nail on the head — I have tears in my eyes." 

     For Mrs. DiCarlo, and thousands of wives, this question is raging: how will I use prices rising, the mortgage payment being due, the baby needing new clothes? — to retreat contemptuously, or to have more feeling about the world and what other people endure? Mrs. DiCarlo told us, "I’ve been angry; because with the baby — trying to get him to the baby-sitter’s in the morning — I did say to my husband, ‘Oh, I wish I didn’t have to work.’ I feel I need a lot of encouragement." "Right," we said, "but do you also need to give a lot of encouragement?" As she answered, Mrs. DiCarlo’s voice was hopeful for the first time: "Yes, I do!" 

     We read her these sentences from "Ethics — the Only Answer for the Economy!" by Ellen Reiss: 

    There is tremendous anger across America now because people feel that the goods of the American earth have not come justly to that self which is their own....Let us take a three-year-old girl in the Bronx, who doesn’t have sufficient milk or clothes. The earth’s possibilities are not coming much to the little Bronx girl, Carmela, though she has as complete a right to them as the child of a president or a sheik....In order for the U.S. economy to fare well, it has to be based on an honest answering of this decisive question, asked with such kindness by Eli Siegel: "What does a person deserve by being a person?"
"This is terrific," said Mrs. DiCarlo. 

     We asked something every wife should hear: does she want to understand what her husband feels, or get revenge on him for not making her life easier? 

     "Do you think about your effect on your husband as you speak to him — whether you are making him stronger or weaker? When you said you wished you didn’t have to work, what was your purpose: to make him more sure of himself or less?" 

     Mrs. DiCarlo answered, "Less sure....I love my work." 

     Wives, we explained, often hint to a husband, "‘You disappoint me because you can’t furnish the [material] things I want.’ This is no way to see the man we marry!" 

     In an Aesthetic Realism class, Ellen Reiss said passionately that, with the profit economy hurting marriages so much, "the only way you’re going to use another person to like the world is to take that thing that is hurting you and ask: is it fair to all people?" We said to Mrs. DiCarlo: "Do you think you and your husband could have a wonderful time really asking, ‘How can we use what is happening to us to have deeper feeling for other people?’ — including many people your husband must know who are very worried....What [your husband] brings home in terms of money is important, but just as important is the need to feel that both of you are doing all you can to be fair to the world together." 

     Said Mrs. DiCarlo, "I thank you so much. After forty-five minutes on the phone, I feel so different! I’m so grateful." 

An American Conversation
     We can picture the DiCarlos having a conversation similar to this imaginary one that Ellen Reiss described in a class: 

Husband — Do you think, Judy, it’s really true that the reason the economy is in this terrible state and that I lost my job is because America needs an economy based on ethics — that ethics is a force, that contempt doesn’t work? I know even when I was making a good salary I didn’t like the way people saw me, and it made me mad — why should that guy be making money off me? But that this, bad ethics, is the thing that’s stopped the economy from moving—do you, Judy, really think that’s true? 

Wife — Well, Bill, I’ll tell you, it makes sense. And when I think about that, it makes me think about the people I see on the street, and I respect them more. I feel they’re looking for something: they’re looking for respect, and I didn’t see it. I feel the way the world is made isn’t as crazy as I thought it was. 

Husband — You know, I’m so glad we’re having this conversation. I feel I love you more as we talk. 

For information about Aesthetic Realism you may contact the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism Foundation at 141 Greene Street, New York, NY 10012, (212) 777-4490; 
Barbara Allen is an Aesthetic Realism consultant and teaches the monthly "Aesthetic Realism and Marriage" class with Anne Fielding and Pauline Meglino. This article was first presented at a public seminar titled, "How Can Marriage Succeed in a Failed Economy?"
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