QUESTION FOR MEN AND WOMEN: HOW DO WE WANT TO AFFECT PEOPLE?
Aesthetic Realism is
great and new in showing there is a deep, inevitable desire in every person
to have a good effect on people, to have people stronger. How much we want
our lives to mean something good for other people is so much bigger than
we have known, and this is the most hopeful news for every person. It is
part of our deepest desire which I've learned is our desire to like the
world. In his great lecture Mind and Friends,
Eli Siegel said:
I have described
the three possible situations a person may be in, in meeting even a stranger.
Assume that John Rosen meets James Robinson. John Rosen talks to James
Robinson for five minutes. John Rosen either leaves James Robinson exactly
as he was; or through talking to him he can make him worse off than he
was; or he can make him better off than he was. "I was introduced to him
and I talked to him for five minutes. 1) I left him exactly as he was—I
don't like that. I don't like talking to a guy for five minutes and not
meaning a thing, even though it isn't bad. 2) I did him some harm; I really
did him some bad things; I don't like that. 3) I did him a little good."
John Rosen likes that; everybody would.
Aesthetic Realism enables
a person to see clearly how we have affected people, and also what
effect we really want to have, and it makes for a beautiful change
in that person's life. I am tremendously grateful that this is what occurred
with me—changing the deep self-doubt I had, and enabling me increasingly
to be honestly proud of how I see and affect other people.
How We Affect People
Begins with How We See the World
Growing up in Yonkers,
New York, I loved the grandeur of the Hudson River with the magnificent
Palisades on the other shore; riding bikes in summer and sleds in winter;
watching the "Million Dollar Movie" feature of the week on TV with stars
like James Cagney, Bette Davis, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. And some of my
happiest memories are of singing in harmony with my sister Marion many
of the early songs of The Beatles. As we heard our voices blend and contrast
trying to be exact about the notes and the rhythm, our effect on each other
Yet when I wasn't
singing, I mainly had a very different purpose. I wanted to be the most
important person in my sister's life, and enjoyed conversations with her
in which I made fun of people, looked down on them, and encouraged the
feeling that the world was unlikable and beneath us. Without knowing it
I was going after the victory of contempt, and didn't think about what
kind of effect this had on me, my sister, or anyone.
My parents were very
busy—my mother with a house and four children, my father often with second
jobs on top of his long hours as a fireman—and there was often tension
between them. The lives of my oldest brother and sister seemed to be in
frequent turmoil with school, friends, parents and each other. And I remember
feeling very early that life was confusing and difficult.
The remedy I came
to was to separate myself and feel superior, "too good" for all this. As
the youngest, I cultivated a mild-mannered innocence. I got a lot of praise
from my family for being well-behaved, good-looking, smart, a pleasure
to be around. I used this to feel I had a special quality that made just
my mere presence good for another person, without my having to do anything.
Meanwhile, I came to be more and more dissatisfied, and saw the rest of
the world—which didn't give me the automatic approval my family did—as
harsh and unfriendly. This affected very much how I was with people. In
his essay "Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation?," Mr. Siegel explains: "If
you feel that the world is ill-managed, is contemptible, is unkind, you
have to show that in how you see" other people.
I got less interested
in things, and took to hanging around with Matty O'Brien on his back porch
where we'd complain about having "nothing to do." With friends in college,
I wanted to be seen as witty and keenly insightful as we mocked people
and pointed out the "phoniness" we’d seen in "society." And I encouraged
my friends to use drugs with me—mostly marijuana—ratifying in each other
the feeling the world was unlikable and should be put aside. One friend,
David, was often torn between his pre-med studies and social life on campus.
I'm sorry that I never once encouraged him to study, but instead pressured
him to party with us. Though I acted like I could laugh everything off,
inwardly I agonized about my relationships with people. I would curse myself
and cringe, going over and over things I'd said and done. I despised myself
and had no idea why.
I Learned from Aesthetic
Realism that the Effect I Had Was Not the One I Wanted
I am so lucky that in
1981 I met Aesthetic Realism and began to study in consultations. Because
of the kindness and knowledge with which my consultants asked questions,
I felt they got to the heart of things I'd felt all my life. When I spoke
about feeling very separate from people, they asked: "Have you felt you
should keep your distance from people while trying to have them very impressed
with you?" I recognized this right away and answered, "Yes." They asked:
"Are you proud of yourself for the way you've thought about people—the
effect you've wanted to have—or are you ashamed?" I, who had wanted so
much to convince people, including myself that I was a well-meaning nice
guy, answered, "Ashamed."
I knew that beneath
my smiling surface I really didn't care so much about the lives of the
people close to me, and then I saw something very important: I had actually
hoped another person would dislike the world, because in doing so
they seemed to be making more of me. The great thing that happened is that
in seeing this purpose consciously, I didn't want to have it anymore! Eli
Siegel explains in his essay "The Call for Ethics":
[T]he central force
in ethics, the best thing ... in man's mind ... can be described shortly
as a man's inability to like himself if he saw that he met someone or
something and wasn't in some way good for that someone or something ….
This desire for self-respect is a much more powerful thing than is thought.
I began to ask myself,
with friends, co-workers, people in my family, people I met for the first
time: Do I hope this person likes things more, sees more meaning in the
world around him or her, is more composed?—and in asking it, I saw how
much I wanted to answer, Yes! I felt for the first time I was really capable
of being kind. Ten lifetimes would not be enough to thank Eli Siegel for
the knowledge that loosened the tangled knot that was my life, and gave
me a chance to be honestly proud of my effect on people. I cherish the
life I have, which includes my happy marriage to Carol McCluer who is an
actress, and the fact that we can study together in classes taught by Ellen
Reiss; and that we are learning about how to have a good effect on the
life of our six-year-old daughter, Sara.