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Reprinted from

Bloomfield Life

Bloomfield's education newspaper
April 29, 1999 [Bloomfield, New Jersey]
Contempt Kills 

     The horrific carnage on April 20 in Littleton, Colo., once again has a stunned America asking what it is that provokes our children to cold-blooded murder. 

     The educator Eli Siegel, who in 1941 founded the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism, has explained the cause. It is the desire for contempt, which he defined as "the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it." 

     "Contempt," he wrote, "is our soothing revenge for a world not sufficiently interested, as we see it, in what we are hoping for." 

     I have learned that contempt is very ordinary. We may feel superior to someone because our clothes are more expensive or make fun of another person’s awkwardness. 

     But contempt is also the cause of racism, war and economic exploitation. Contempt is not what the human mind and self were made for. It cripples the deepest hope we have — the source of our true strength and self-respect — our desire to know and like the world. 

     From news reports, it is clear that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 13 people and then themselves in a Littleton school, made a very common and in this case, deadly mistake — they used injustice to feel they had a right to hate everything. Young persons need desperately to know what only Aesthetic Realism teaches: there are two kinds of anger, one true and the other false, unjust and terrifically hurtful. 

     We will either use our anger to be against injustice and to see other people more fairly, or we will use it to feel we have the right to be selfish and cruel. 

     In Aesthetic Realism consultations given at the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City, young people are hearing questions about their anger, just and unjust, that are changing their lives. For example: 

• Are you proud of how you are angry, or ashamed? 

• Do you feel there is something in you that likes being angry and wants to continue? 

• When do you think you are stronger: when you are angry or when you are trying to understand another person? 

• What makes you feel more important, hating people or liking them? 

• Does your anger add to the beauty of the world or is it narrowly personal?

    As a local church pastor who is privileged to work with many young persons, this knowledge has been invaluable to me. I have seen vividly that no person can commit an act of violence against another if they see the depths of that person’s feelings as real as their own. 

     All people, including teenagers, want desperately to be able to respect themselves for the way they have anger. They need to learn that they can be as exact about anger as they can be about a mathematical equation, and need to be, in order to respect themselves. When this is a reality, the horrors of Littleton will be no more. 


The writer is pastor of Park United Methodist Church in Bloomfield, New Jersey 
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