I’ve logged more experience than most with simplicity and the complexity you discover inside simplicity, minimalism and asocial behavior, endurance and landscape.
Here is the truth: I think some deep wisdom inside me (a) sensed the stress, (b) was terrified for me, and (c) gave me something new and hard to focus on in order to prevent me from lapsing into a despair coma — and also to keep me from having a jelly jar of wine in my hand.
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As we increasingly connect with the world through computer screens, we’re removing ourselves from direct sensory contact with nature. In other words, we’re learning to substitute symbols of reality for reality itself. I think that’s particularly true for children who’ve grown up surrounded by screens from a young age. You could argue that this isn’t necessarily something new, that it’s just a continuation of what we saw with other electronic media like radio or TV. But I do think it’s an amplification of those trends.
Time was when I knew the racists were the lunch-counter owners who refused to serve blacks, the warmongers were the generals who planned wars and ordered the killing of innocent people, and the polluters were the industrialists whose factories fouled the air, water, and land. I was a good guy, boycotting, marching, and sitting-in to protest the actions of the bad guys.
Someone once pointed out to me that the word respect comes from the latin respectus, which means “to see again.” It’s a beautiful concept. We have to see each other again. We have to see the gang member again, and the poor farmer, too. As we see them again, we find they’re not that different from us, that a thread connects us all: the Indian on the reservation and the immigrant just arriving on these shores; the middle-class kid in the suburbs and the gang member in the inner city. The more we look, the thicker that thread becomes. Sometimes it may be invisible, but it’s there. We’ve got to make it more visible. There is no such thing as a separate reality. What we do here affects people over there.
Really, unless you’re from one of the targeted immigrant communities, you have no idea what’s going on there. Streets are empty. Stores and businesses are closed because people have been detained or deported, or their customers have disappeared, or residents are just afraid to go out. These used to be bustling, vibrant neighborhoods, but if you don’t live there or have reason to visit, you would never know the impact homeland-security policies have had. In the two months following September 11, more than twelve hundred Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men were rounded up for indefinite detention. Then, starting in September 2002, there was “special registration,” where noncitizen males from Islamic countries were required to register with the INS.
My grandmother always told me that I was hers, that I was Mexican. That was her role. It was not my teacher’s role to tell me I was Mexican. It was my teacher’s role to tell me I was an American. The notion that you go to a public institution in order to learn private information about yourself is absurd. We used to understand that when students went to universities, they would become cosmopolitan. They were leaving their neighborhoods. Now we have this idea that, not only do you go to first grade to learn your family’s language, but you go to a university to learn about the person you were before you left home. So, rather than becoming multicultural, rather than becoming a person of several languages, rather than becoming confident in your knowledge of the world, you become just the opposite. You end up in college having to apologize for the fact that you no longer speak your native language.
For a long time, during the dirty war in Colombia, when my friends were being shot dead all around me, my goal was just to survive. But after I was tortured, my goal changed. It was not just to survive, but to live a meaningful life. Sometimes, in the ordeal, we find the seeds of our identity.
Once you’ve seen, up close, the evil human beings are capable of, you’re not going to see the world, other people, or even yourself the same way again. Those of us who’ve never had such an experience might imagine how brave or cowardly we would be in extreme situations, but people who’ve been exposed to those situations know what they did and didn’t do. And, almost inevitably, they failed to live up to some expectation they had of themselves.
The notion that exposure to violence incites violence is itself media-driven. Exposure actually does something much worse than incite violence: it cultivates a sense of insecurity and dependence that makes people submit to indignities no human being should ever have to bear.
One quality that helps a marriage work is when partners respect each other and are each grateful for what the other brings to the relationship. Relationships run on an economy of gratitude. And if your partner needs to change his or her behavior, it’s important to ask for that change without attributing bad motives to the behavior. When you do argue, or when your partner gets angry, look for the soft emotion under the hard one and talk to that. A belief in the goodwill of the other person is critical.
You have to practice tuning out the noise of the culture to hear the messages transmitted from your gut and your heart. You have to become like a bird-watcher and be vigilant and develop the skills to spot and name the quick flash of awareness in yourself.