I wrote a short comment to the Healing Iraq blog, this night, about personal liberation, and it got me thinking about that. It is a subject that has plagued me most of my life, one that took me a long time to come to terms with. If the reader has read the book “Steppenwolf,” by Herman Hesse, one will know of the image of the main character, Harry Haller, renting a room in a family house, and peering through the window on Christmas, watching the family prepare for their Christmas feast, knowing how he will always be an outsider, never a part of that warm, cozy setting. Harry sees the world as divided into two basic classes of person: the ordinary citizen and himself and a handful like him, the steppenwolves of the world. These are people who embrace the meaninglessness of life, who then create a world of meaning in the pursuit of knowledge, art and a certain view of perfection — the disciplined pursuit of the limited worthy things. On the other hand, Harry is quite honest to his own contradictions. He always takes rooms in a pleasant bourgeois home and has a great nostalgia for the comforts and ease of bourgeois living with which he grew up. However, he is convinced he can really take it or leave it, and in some sense leaves it since he does provide such a life for himself, but lives quietly amidst it, while at the same time being aloof and scornful of the very life he enjoys so much
I was brought up in a Jewish atmosphere in a small town in upstate New York that prided itself on its Ku Klux Klan and Nazi heritage; I remember my history teacher in school telling us about the wonderful Klan picnics they used to have on the hill overlooking the town, and how the burning cross could be seen for miles in all directions…in addition, I was intelligent and curious in a town where 2/3’s of the kids in high school had never really left the county boundaries. To put it mildly, I didn’t get along very well, there.
I had always thought that I could find a place that would be accepting, but one thing I have found, in life, is that when you leave your town and your family, you never really can find a replacement for them. Most places view newcomers as just that…and it doesn’t matter if you have lived there for 20 years, you still do not have ‘roots’ there, that go back even a single generation, so you are rarely accepted as one of ‘us,’ no matter how friendly people are to you…and I have found that there are many places where people are not going to be friendly to you, if you are new, no matter what you do.
I have settled with that, though it took me close to 30 years to do that. I like myself, and generally like people. I do not care, much, what people think of me, accepting that people usually like me or dislike me for reasons beyond my control…I love it, of course, when I am with people with whom I can genuinely have a good, friendly time, but if they don’t like me, I do not take it personally. It is something more or less beyond my control, so why should I worry about it? As Bette Midler always said, “F#ck them if they can’t take a joke.”
I think the important thing is to learn to like yourself. For me, that means not doing harm, to quote Hippocrates. I do my best to be a good person, I do my best to do good deeds, help people, make them feel better about themselves, it makes ME feel better about myself, and assures me that I am a good person. I do this NOT because I want to go to heaven, and not because I expect to gain benefit from it…but because it is a better way to be. If I am nice to people, and they are nice to me, it is better for both of us. Doing evil simply adds to the evil around me, and it is simply non-productive. It helps no one, least of all myself. If I like myself, and know that I am a good person, I am content, my world is content, and i am rarely unhappy and lonely.
Those are my ruminations for today.