Why Everyone is Sad yet Nobody Angry

Have you noticed that, by and large, few people get angry today? That few stand up for themselves and lash out? Get irritated? Yes. Ornery? Sure. Persnickety? No doubt. But blood boiling? No.

Have you also noticed how most people get–and are–really sad? They have the blues, they’re in a foul mood, they’re down in the dumps, they’re melancholic, they’re lying in bed, they’re feeling dreary, their outlook is bleak, they act like a wet noodle.

My question is: how come anger as a public expression (outrage, most notably) is mostly gone and how come sadness runs rampant?

I have no short answer to this question, but I believe that the difference between a cheerful, tough outlook and the dreary, downtrodden outlook holds the key.

Continue reading “Why Everyone is Sad yet Nobody Angry”

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The Post-Martial Orientation: Cultivating Toughness

Long the pride of place among the educated, compassion, empathy, and presentness are giving way to a completely different order of supreme virtues. This is because, at a more general level, the post-religious outlook is being supplanted by a post-martial outlook. It has to be so, since history is uncompromising.

This is what I see. The post-martial order carries forward the essence of physical courage in the forms of mental toughness, defiance, determination, perseverance. We have no single word for this hearty disposition: I could call it cheerfulness or something else. We are in the midst of reinventing a vocabulary for our time, one that should enable us to speak clearly about standing firm, holding our ground, and going on in the face of what once was believed to be known yet now is known to be unknown. Our own ignorance is what we are and will continue to be confronted with.

Continue reading “The Post-Martial Orientation: Cultivating Toughness”

Sentimentality or Dangerous Love?

Love of a lover is not a mere affection, sentiment, or passion. Affections come, sentiments disappear, passions wane. Yet love, insofar as it is love, not only resides but also grows. Emotions perish, love endures.

Furthermore, love of a lover is a religious concept. I devote myself to my lover, with this commitment not being a prison cell or an obligation I must fulfill: it is a desire I celebrate. I want to devote myself to her regardless of changing circumstances, the fluctuations of moods, the travails of misfortune.

Thirdly, love of a lover is an ethical concept. I must recognize my lover as a particular human being with a unique suite of desires, ideas, capacities, and dispositions. This recognition should bring me to ‘wish her well’ in a very strong sense. Meaning: to care for her for her own sake, to imagine as best I can what she thinks but does not say, to achieve an intuitive grasp of her way of being.

In spite of the way we chat about love, love of a lover is not a fainthearted undertaking. It is not nice; it is dangerous: it will, as it must, break you before it deems you worthy of the blessings it so graciously bestows upon both of you.

Enough with Niceness

This morning my philosophical friend said, ‘We keep calling spade a feather. Let’s call a spade a spade. We need to dig into the truth. The truth is rude and blunt. Truth empties out all the bullshit.’

One colleague told me recently, ‘Religion is not nice.’ I told this to my philosophical friend and she replied, ‘That’s true. And Jesus was tough.’

Niceness is everywhere and nowhere is it sincere. The UPS guy apologizes after hearing that my bike is damaged. Why the knee-jerk apology? I didn’t ask for it, and I don’t need it. Flight attendants apologize when your plane lands five minutes behind schedule. So what? Customer service is so very, very nice, and businesspeople are delicate, polite, squeamish.

Nobody wants to hurt anyone by being direct and truthful; nobody wants to be hurt by anybody by speaking up; everyone believes that he or she is on the verge of being hurt or of hurting others, it seems. We refrain and restrain, and we’re vigilant. We are always watching and scrutinizing ourselves, careful not to say anything that might upset someone else, jeopardize our social standing, or compromise our position. The business word is strategic. The vague pseudo-ethical term is empathy or compassion.

Everyone is strategic, and that’s shameful. Niceness is false.

Sentimentality is nauseating, bullshitting (i.e., a lack of care for truthfulness) is unpalatable, and niceness is enervating. Meanwhile, the truth is hard, it’s blunt, it’s rude, it’s feisty. It also can be cheerful, relieving, joyful. Anyway, it does ’empty out of us all the bullshit.’ To find the truth, we need to cut out all the bullshit, forgo squeamishness, go for broke, examine ourselves, come what may. Who knows what we’ll find?

Make no mistake: rejecting niceness doesn’t mean embracing meanness. Both go down hard. Without both, we can put ourselves on the line.

And if we don’t? Then niceness will continue to keep us from knowing ourselves and from getting to know our fellows. Don’t hurt me, don’t get hurt by me. Well, that’s no way to introduce yourself to yourself or others.

Stop Holding Back!

Stop holding back! Just stop it! Stop giving up, giving in, shrinking back. Just–just stop with all the restraining!

(We need retraining in overcoming restraining. Well, better go get a high paid consultant. Or some facilitator to ‘open the space’ and ‘hold the space’ and ‘take us through a process.’ Go on: can we finally admit that all this stuff is nonsense?)

Don’t you feel the dissipation, the cowering, the smallness of shrinking back? Can you still remember what it felt like to burst forth into life and to become alive with Life?

Come on! 

I mean: Come on!

Hell is ‘I feel hurt.’ Hell is ‘What I hear you saying is….’ Hell is flatness, the flattening out of liveliness.

You don’t kill people anymore. You kill their fieriness by making it impossible for fieriness to achieve form, utterance, articulation. Take the air out of everyone’s lungs: that’ll do it!

Nobody is great anymore and nothing is grand. None of it got killed, only stifled, stymied, put out. So went greatness and grandness without notification or notice.

Let the heart-fire loose! Let it breathe, let it burst forth, let it ignite into who-knows-what. Only let it! 

Letting loose isn’t the same as physical violence, isn’t brutality, isn’t aggression, not necessarily. Letting loose pours one into speaking, acting. Let loose and articulate clearly.

Wildness: the spirit howling in controlled song.

Too much of this ‘non-violent communication.’ Too much of the ‘From my perspective,’ ‘In my experience…,’ ‘For me…’: holy shit! Enough of the bullshit! Aren’t you feeling nauseated? I am.

Here’s a way to stifle the fieriness of the spirit: have everyone go around in a large group and give feedback. Feedback? Blah. I remember the creative writing group I was in some years ago. The tacit rule was that you had to begin with four ‘I like…’ statements and then you were ‘given permission’ to make one watered-down criticism or vague recommendation. De-oxycenating.

Where are all the thick skins these days? Huh? Where are all the tough ones? Whence all the soft souls, the meeknesses, the sheer timid, whispering, quilted voices?

There’s so much bullshit today, I mean seriously, and it dries up, squashes, crushes the power of speaking up, of staking oneself, of becoming alive, and of daring to be wrong. I prefer the one who dares to be wrong to the one who says what’s appropriate and probably right. This is an aesthetic judgment: boring.

And there’s a massive amount of crap lingo these days: ‘being vulnerable,’ ‘being raw,’ ‘being present,’ ‘being open.’ And everything and everyone is ‘really’ genuine and ‘really’ generous and everything. And we’re all so grateful and blessed and kumbaya. How any, not to say all, of this is possible I don’t know. In any quantity, let alone such high quantities, flattery is nauseating. So is bullshit. And sentimentality.

Sentimentality destroys the proper value of all things.

Can’t we just stake ourselves on speaking the truth? On acting bravely? How about facing up to things: for once? For once?

Come on now! Have a real go at it!

Courage lies in the conceptual space of Fear and the Good. Look at fear, confront it, face up to it–and transcend it by grasping the Good so firmly. Get tough and growl a little at life. Don’t expect awards or even to live. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Relativism says there’s nothing worth dying for. Then who cares about the relativist? Most think there’s no reason in confronting our fears, just in finding a cure-all. So much the worse for the myriads of fearful. 

We must become a Power like the wind, the sun, a Power that gets poured, concentrated, cultivated into clear thinking, right speech, right conduct. Our foes: bullshit artists, namby-pambyism, and kumbaya. Don’t respond to any of them because you’ll lose if you adopt their terms. Simply: own the center line.