Category Archives: poetry

favorite poetry

Self-awareness and Bullying

In my last post, I shared thoughts about bullying and self-consciousness or “self” awareness.  A couple years ago when I was on Facebook an upper classman when I was in Jr. High at my small Arkansas high school shared his shame and regret about bullying a helpless, self-conscious, insecure lad in his class. This gentleman had been a star athlete himself, later to have a tryout with the Arkansas Razorbacks; he was handsome, intelligent, and headed to success in his life.  On Facebook he shared about his effort to reach out to this man he had bullied to apologize but had received no response.  This gentleman had found awareness and now sincerely rued his cruel behavior to this “nerdy” and perhaps handicapped classmate.

Self “awareness” is something we mature into, slowly becoming aware of the “presence” of other people in our world and becoming sensitive to their reality.  There are times, however, when this maturity never comes and, furthermore, there are times when people are ensconced in a social milieu where this “self” awareness is discouraged.  The best example I find of this occurred in the New Testament with the crucifixion of Jesus, as explained by Fr. Richard Rohr who interpreted the famous words of Jesus on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” as, “Father, forgive them for they are not aware (or conscious) of what they do.”

These men did not awaken that morning, convene down at Starbucks, and suddenly decide, “Hey, let’s be mean and nasty, violent and brutal, and put that guy to death who does not see this world as we do.”  They had many meetings at that coffee shop in planning their deed and came to the firm conclusion that they were going to do the right thing, the “lord’s will,” if you please. They were firm in their convictions and many of them I’m sure were morally upright men, probably in a respectable position down at the local church….or, “synagogue” in that day.  They were probably members of the school board, members of the Lions Club, active in what used to be called, “benevolent societies,” and faithfully they bought Girl Scout cookies each spring.  And I’m sure that there were young, unmarried men in the mix also, those who avowed that they didn’t, “smoke, drink, chew…or go with the girls they do.”  But it is possible for good men to do bad things when they are driven merely by ideology, steeped with preconceived ideas about their world and the deep-seated conviction that they objectively understand the world.  When men and women are addicted to their ideas, regardless of how “noble” those ideas may be, they lack “awareness” and are capable of great evil in what they deem as service to the good.  T.S. Eliot summarized this problem, “Oh the shame of motives late revealed, and the awareness of things ill done, and done to others harm, which once we took for exercise of virtue.”

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“Be Best,” Don’t Bully!”

In clinical practice, I often had to deal with bullying, though mainly the more “mature” variety as seen with teen-agers.  Younger children, however, would occasionally present to a counselor in her office, plaintively asking, “Why don’t they like me?”  The counselor would first offer some reassurance and then begin to offer coaching on basic social deportment, how to behave in a less obnoxious manner, not rudely and intrusively.  The young bully who actually sought help of this sort, who could ask the question, “Why don’t they like me?” was demonstrating that he had the maturity to be aware of the problem and therefore was probably amenable to being helped.  The real problem lay with those children who could not imagine the possibility that there was anything wrong with their behavior and then lash out at those who appeared to not like him.

Self-awareness is an essential dimension to the bullying issue.  Most children who get to the playground age in public schools already have social antennae so that they are amenable to feedback from the social context in which they find themselves.  They even will feel a sense of shame if they breach the unwritten rules of the social contract and then amend their ways in an effort to fit in.  Some, however, will not have internalized a sense of healthy shame and will brazenly stomp on social convention and find themselves frequently in trouble with the principal and eventually in a residential treatment facility.  Some will not be amenable to the rules even then and will grow into adulthood and begin to “rock n roll” with their anti-social attitude and behavior until they find some conflict-habituated place in the social structure.  Some, perhaps, will even become successful businessmen and/or politicians and maybe even find themselves as the leader of their country.

This “self-awareness” is the gift of the neuro-cortex which gives us the Shakespearean, “pauser reason,” a filter with which we check our impulses.  For example, if one encounters a belligerent bully as an adult he will usually know that he cannot respond with bullying behavior without risking severe conflict.  This makes me think of an old Jim Croce tune from the 1970’s, “You don’t tug on superman’s cape/ You don’t spit into the wind/You don’t pull the mask of the old lone ranger,/And you don’t mess around with Jim.”  If you remember the famous tune, you recall that a man wandered into town who did not regard the admonishment, “You don’t mess around with Jim.”

Yes, I’m curious what is gonna happen this Tuesday in Singapore.

Have We Been Bamboozled?

Before I deactivated my Facebook account last month, I ventured into a discussion of truth.  One astute individual noted, “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us.”  Another observation discovered decades ago put it this way, “Our thinking is the belated rationalization of conclusions to which we’ve already been led by our desires.”

It is sobering to toy with the notion that we believe only what we want to and avoid anything that challenges this belief system.  This is graphically being illustrated currently with the power of the Trumpian delusional system to capture the reins of power in our government. This phenomenon is not intrinsically “bad” as it is merely an intrinsic “human” quality which each of us begin our life with and often grow beyond as we reach maturity.  But it becomes “bad” and even evil when our maturity does not include spiritual maturity so that we can have the humility to recognize this narcissistic tendency and be open to acknowledging self-deceit.

Self-deceit is the primary dimension of the Bible quip I offered yesterday about sin, noting that the essence of sin lies in the “thoughts and intents of the heart.”  It is easy to live in a religious culture and glibly acknowledge being a sinner but it is frightening to toy with the notion that sin goes deeply into our inner-most being (i.e. “heart”) and influences our view of the world, even including our view of ourselves.  Our usual response, when threatened with this truth is to utilize our ego’s defense system and simply cling more tightly to our customary view of the world and of ourselves, not daring to venture near the anguish of disillusionment.  This is most significantly an issue with respect to our certainties, including our religious certainties.  As W. H. Auden noted, “And Truth met him, and held out her hand.  But he clung in panic to his tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”  The “Gospel” of Pogo put it this way, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Michel Foucault and “Difference” in Contemporary America

Difference matters to me.  I was raised in a conservative, American South culture with religion being the paramount dimension in my particular subculture.  But this upbringing in a rigid, highly structured atmosphere of “us vs. them” troubled me and in my early adulthood I began to acquire a more inclusive, less linear-thinking oriented approach to life.  Now, in the latter stages of my life, the issue of sameness vs. difference is a paramount concern of mine, especially given the political climate in my country and in the world.

Today I stumbled across a book in my library, “The Order of Things” by Michel Foucoult, heavily marked up from my “youthful” enthusiasm of decades past.  In the quote which I will share, Foucoult explores the relationship between “sympathy” (i.e. sameness”) vs. “antinomy” (difference) and the dialogic imperative of an interaction between these two complementary dimensions of the human soul.

Sympathy is an instance of the same so strong and so insistent that it will not rest content to be merely one of the forms of likeness; it has the dangerous power of assimilating, of rendering things identical to one another, of mingling them, of causing their individuality to disappear—and thus rendering them foreign to what they were before.  Sympathy transforms.  It alters, but in the direction of identity, so that if its power were not counter-balanced it would reduce the world to a point, to a homogeneous mass, to the featureless form of the same:  all its parts would hold together and communicate with one another without a break, with no distance between them, like those metal chains held suspended by sympathy to the attraction of a single magnet.

But then Foucault presents “antipathy” as the opposite life-force, equally necessary, which seeks to counter the otherwise stultifying power of the demand for sameness.  What he calls “antipathy” is merely a drive for difference, an innate desire to not be swallowed by the whole of sameness, a “whole” which would be merely a “black hole” without consideration of this “antipathy” or difference.  Foucault declares:

Sympathy is compensated by its twin, antipathy.  Antipathy maintains the isolation of things (i.e. the difference, the desire and demand for independence) and prevents their assimilation; it encloses every species within its impenetrable difference and its propensity to continue to being what it is.

This notion of continuing “to being what it is” is an essential dimension of identity, an ability to “hang onto” a core of what/who one is even when beset by the challenges of difference.  With maturity, i.e. “ego integrity,” one can hang onto a core of who one is even as he negotiates with difference, (i.e. “antipathy”) and knowing that he can survive…and even thrive…with the benefit of “difference” (i.e. something new) into its mindset.

Poet Stanley Kunitz offered wisdom re this inner-core, this essence of who we are:

The Layers
BY STANLEY KUNITZ
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

 

Emily Dickinson and the Imprisonment of Specious Truth

The subject of truth continues to fascinate me with the term “fake news” becoming synonymous with any viewpoint that does not fit with ours.  Truth appears increasingly to be very relative with no real standard being applicable.  Oh sure, I’m a “relativist” myself but then I continue to believe in some basic standard of veracity which, should I breach it, I would evoke some sense of shame and an attempt to apologize.

But the wonderful 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson knew that it was possible for the human soul to select its constituent elements and fashion a private, “society” that would be, “proof and bulwark” (borrowing a term from Shakespeare) against truth.  She was a keen observer of the human situation in her day and noted how people tended to create a very private reality for themselves, congregate with like-minded souls, and then repel any contrary viewpoint.  Here is how she put it:

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

Note that Dickinson observed that after constructing this autistic shell of a world view, the individual would, “shut the door” and then assume a “Divine majority,” that is assuming a Divinity to which nothing could be “presented” any more.  She knew that at this point an individual had said, in the depths of his heart, “My mind is made up.  Don’t confuse me with facts.”

But often in this closed-minded world, Dickinson knew that Truth often visited and “kneeled at her low-gate,” bidding for admission.  But she had already pledged her troth to a particular viewpoint and “closed the valves of her attention like stone.”  The imagery of valves of attention, “closing like stone” is powerful, evoking an auditory image of the gates of attention clanging shut with finality.  When one has barricaded him/herself into a prison of specious certainty, and labeled it Truth, there is no way for those chariots that are always passing by to breach the force-field it faces.  The poison that results inside such a prison always makes me think of Westboro Baptist Church, David Koresh and his disciples, and Jim Jones and the Jonestown, South Africa disaster.

W. H. Auden offered relevant wisdom, “And Truth met him, and held out Her hand. And he clung in panic to his tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”

A Texas “Outlaw” Poet Demonstrates Semiotics

In the six years that “literarylew” has existed, I’ve explored poetry at great depth.  A lot of my exploration has been in the area of semiotics, that unconscious domain where instincts and external demands of society encounter each other and an identity amenable to symbolic participation in the world is created.  If this identity is too well-endowed with instinctual energy, psychosis could emerge in the extreme.  If “external demands” rule the day, then at an extreme linear thinking will prevail one will find comfort in the world that W. H. Auden described as that of, “a logical lunatic.”  The goal is for both dimensions of human experience to freely interact with instinctual energy finding expression in socially acceptable terms.

But the poet has that “id”-stinctual energy working with more intensity than those of us who live a more prosaic life.  With the poet, words cavort about in the subterranean regions of the heart, making it challenging to, “buckle his distempered “swollen” heart within the belt of rule….as Shakespeare put it.  The energy of instinctual energy that would threaten dissolution is harnessed by the poet’s capacity to use words to bind that energy and to use words creatively. At the conclusion I will include a poem by Archibald MacLeish who so beautifully describes the meshing of what William James called the, “blooming, buzzing, confusing world of sense experience” with words.)

However, I first would like to introduce you to my most recent blog subscriber, a Texas “outlaw” poet, Jeff Callaway, whose life story and poetry so beautifully illustrates the struggle of one poet in “binding” the energy of his heart and life.  This poem is a hodgepodge of imagery, often lacking “sense” other than to one who has a heart for poetry and will intuit and feel a whole lot of “sense” by giving it a close, attentive reading.  Here I quote the initial stanza of this raucous and often bawdy poem which clearly reveals this man’s energy bursting at the seams:

the greatest poems
are never written down
but lonely and forgotten
before a pen can be found
the greatest poems never find the ink
in the time it takes you to think
slowly with time they fade
and face the guillotine
of jilted poems and unrequited lovers
or glued to my own vague memory
of what could’ve been
if only i’d had a pen
and the recollection to keep repeating
what it was i was trying to say…

For the whole of this poem, check out this link:  https://texasoutlawpoet.com/2018/02/16/the-greatest-poems-of-all-by-jeff-callaway-texas-outlaw-poet-2/

“Words in Time,” by Archibald MacLeisch:

Bewildered with the broken tongue
of wakened angels in our sleep
then lost the music that was sung
and lost the light time cannot keep!

There is a moment when we lie
Bewildered, wakened out of sleep,
when light and sound and all reply:
that moment time must tame and keep.

That moment like a flight of birds
flung from the branches where they sleep,
the poet with a beat of words
flings into time for time to keep.

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Where There is No Vision, the People Perish.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  Heard this often in my youth and realize now that referred to those who don’t see and understand the world as I did at that time.  There is vision and then there is “vision” and learning this lesson requires as step one, realizing that at very best we “see” through a glass darkly.  To put that in more human terms, we “see” only in accordance to a deep-seated need to “see” the world that we are accustomed to.  For example, in my youth in the state of Arkansas, I clearly saw that “Negroes” were not as intelligent and virtuous as were white people.  “It is obvious,” I’m sure I told myself.  What I failed to understand then is the dictate from my culture which mandated that I saw “Negroes” in this way and that seeing them in such a manner fulfilled my personal and tribal need to have someone that was beneath me on the social ladder; they were “the other” in my early life.  The irony of that was that my family was close to the bottom of the ladder itself the first decade or so of my life when those values were being imprinted.

Obtaining vision requires a capacity for paradox, realizing that we see only when we realize that we don’t see, that we see “only through a glass darkly.”  This paradoxical capacity introduces us to the experience of “the other” and awareness of our existential loneliness.  We are all very much alone in this world and it is only through the illusions of cultural contrivance, the object world, that we can superficially connect with others and pretend that we have connection.  And this “pretense” serves a very useful function in this very necessary world of appearance; but it is only when we venture beneath the surface, beyond the pretenses of our persona, and flirt with what W. H. Auden described as the, “unabiding void,” that we can enter the meaningful realm of spirit in which a more genuine connection is possible.  You might even say that our tippy-toeing near or into the void, “scares the hell of us”….or it least it can…as hell is living one’s whole life on the surface, failing to answer the famous question of Jesus, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul; or, what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

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AN AFTERTHOUGHT — What prompted this post is a story in The Economist about the state of Oklahoma and its egregious lack of vision.  Their “lack of vision” so closely parallels the obscurantism of the Republican Party in my country. Here is a link to that story:

https://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21736102-low-teacher-pay-and-severe-budget-cuts-are-driving-schools-brink-whats-matter