Reflections on Charlottesville and our Nervous System

Excerpts by David Whyte from Facebook post on 8/17/17. Shared with the author's permission.

"First, the easy part to address, our despair: the world at present seems to be a mirror to many of our worst qualities. We could not have our individual fears and prejudices; nor our endless wish to feel superior to others, nor all our deepest flaws, more finely drawn and better represented in the outer world than are presented to us now in the iconic figures and even the weather patterns that dominate our screens and our times.

This is a time for us to learn self-knowledge, which is always an examination of our blind spots, our vulnerabilities and our flaws as much as our virtues. Nevertheless, despite the inherited human difficulties writ large across our heavens and our screens, we have never lived in a time, when more people as a proportion of humanity have been as well fed or housed or presented with astonishing possibilities of which their ancestors could only dream. Looking at my daughter’s face I would not want her living in any other time in the whole of recorded history than this one; she has more opportunity, more chance of being treated with respect in her work than any of her long line of struggling female ancestors going back before the Neolithic. She lives in a world of feminine autonomy that Jane Austen, only two hundred years ago could only imagine. It is only a matter of time, if we follow through on this conversation, before most of her less fortunate sisters in the world have the same gift. Taking this last example alone, fully fifty percent of humanity has a more dignified, more empowered, more respected future than ever before. The present pseudo-science from a Google engineer, even if it hovered within stretching distance of the truth, ignores all the equivalent disabilities of the masculine in the world it has shaped, it is representative of a last rearguard shot before we embrace the reality of women taking a full place in the shaping of our society. As to the natural world, it is not all bad: in the North of England where I grew up, all of the polluted rivers of my childhood have been cleaned up and are beginning to burgeon again with life; Bald Eagles soar over my present house near the Pacific Ocean, where there were none just decades ago, and very personally; in this very personal human life, looking at the portrait looking back at me on my desk, my mother could come back today and experience none of the prejudice she would have felt as a young Irish girl on first coming to England in the fifties.

Science tells us that we are shaped biologically, very early on, to prefer the facial characteristics, the accents and the skin tones of those who nurtured us. But what is more inspiring and is also scientifically proven, is that we can learn to trust faces, learn to trust and even enjoy words that are at first not familiar, and learn to live with different tonal qualities other than those that first brought us into the world, and that this extends to the non-human world of nature of which we are also a part and which gives us the foundation of the very air we breathe. This necessary education into ‘otherness’ is mostly effected by parents or societies learning not even to name the ‘other’ people in our lives as black or white or anything in between, and that this radical act of un-naming inclusion, both in parenting and in our societies in general, might be the most central, the most difficult and the most courageous and crucial conversation of our times.

Life is fierce and difficult and gives us every excuse for defensive prejudice and easy hatred, but there is no life we can live without being subject to its griefs, its losses and heartbreak. Half of every conversation is mediated through disappearance. Thus, there is every reason to want to retreat from life, to carry torches that illuminate only our own view, to make enemies of life and of others, to hate what we cannot understand and to keep the heartbreaking world and the people who inhabit it at a distance through prejudicial naming -but – it therefore also follows, that our ability to do the opposite, to meet the other in the world on their own terms, without diminishing them, in celebration and in creating something new, is one of the necessary signatures of human courage; and one we are being asked to write, above all our flaws and difficulties, across the heavens of this, our present time."

You can read the entire essay here: https://lindagraham-mft.net/poet-david-whyte-on-our-turbulent-times/

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