Wednesday, July 15, 2015

NEW ESSAY: Listening to All Voices ` "Why Not?"

"Party Trick" by Fluff, 2008 from Wikimedia commons
DO NOT try this at home or without adult supervision!
Balanced Voices
By Judith Cullen
© 2015

Just when I think I have my feet planted firmly on the ground, someone reminds me that I don’t and I am forced to confess the truth. I am an Idealist: a person who is guided more by ideals than by practical considerations.  Sometimes I feel this marker is unfair, that it posits a circumstance in which someone has to be either one or the other.  Some days and in some circumstances I think I am much more the Realist: a person who uses facts and past events, rather than hopeful feelings and wishes, to predict the future.

Is our perception of ourselves that limited?  Can we only be one or the other?  Or are we in a continual balancing act between head and heart, a perpetual weighing of concerns and needs versus our desires and dreams.  All are essential to who we are and how we get to where we are going as individuals, as nations, as humanity. 

I admit that my default is to the heart, but I am well acquainted and able to function earnestly with my head.  All I have to do is look around me to see that there are people far more pragmatic than myself, and those much farther out in dreamland.

So, why does this labeling bother me?  It is because I believe in balance, in respect, in loyal opposition.  It is because I believe that a world of realism would be a bleak place: a world never able to look beyond what has happened and what is happening, to what might happen.  A world that never leaves "the box." Dull, dull, dull!  Yet, I readily admit that a world of idealism is a world in which nothing would ever get accomplished, and frequently the clearly evident would be ignored in favor of the wishfully hoped for.  When the Tiger is gnawing on your foot is not the moment to deny that that Tiger exist.

I found myself angered by a recent blog post around release of Harper Lee’s new novel.  Writer Allen Barra opens his post “Fan’s of “To Kill a Mockingbird’ Need to Grow Up” with the sentence “In all the reaction to Harper Lee’s new novel, Go Set a Watchman, one thing is clear: Her fans are ignoring her simplistic formulations about race that shouldn’t fool a child.”  What? I do not address his comment on the new book as I have not read it yet.  Unlike many, I will not pass judgement on what I have not read myself. I do take issue with his comments about the 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winner, which I have read several times. 

In the five decades since Miss Lee wrote her book there have been many changes and advances where our understanding of race is concerned.  To Kill A Mockingbird was a timely book, and since we still have lessons to learn in how we treat each other, some of its messages still have validity.  But Mr. Barra insists that the only timeless classics that are worth labeling as such are those possessing some moral ambiguity, some complexity that takes us to them again and again to ponder “why” and bring us closer to our understanding of the human condition.  He clearly is not a fan of folk tales and no doubt would consider enduring archetypes like Cinderella a moralistic fluke – one that goes back to the time of Aesop, by the way. 

Not every meaningful plot arc has to be complex or "adult.” And what’s wrong with children or a child-like view? Children are far more pure forms of humans than socialized, analyzed, intellectualized adults.  While children possess both kindness and cruelty, they also are quicker to forgive and begin afresh.  They also function with fewer judgments and barriers, allowing their imaginations to function freely and without limitations.  More of them than are given credit for it know the difference between fantasy and reality. Anyone who has ever tried to insert themselves into a child’s fantasy, only to be told baldly, “It’s a game!” knows this.

I still remember when I was in elementary school, several years into socialization, and a teacher made the point to me that my friend Saundra was my “black friend” which made her somehow different from other friends.  I will never forget my horror and confusion.  That was her definition, not mine.  I did not see Saundra as different in anyway, and the only fact of importance to me was that she was my friend. So spare me the righteousness of moral ambiguity and complexity.  One of the reasons simple answers endure is that they are often extremely hard to accomplish.  Complexity and simplicity, each is appropriate for different issues.

Back to idealism: what is the value of it?  Did the people we credit in history as visionary thinkers really have totally pragmatic views of what they were doing?  And were those views in alignment with what we credit them for achieving? 

These thoughts came to me in a conversation with a dear friend recently, when I brought up the idealism of the Star Trek universe of Gene Roddenberry.  She commented that it was a shame Roddenberry wasn’t a better person himself.  True enough. She’s absolutely correct.  However, I think in the human struggle with an ambiguous morality and the bricks and mortar of reality, people can stumble from what they thought they were doing to something greater: becomintg accidental idealists.  For that I go to the Star Trek canon itself for my favorite example: the character of Zefram Cochrane from the movie Star Trek First Contact, portrayed brilliantly by actor James Cromwell as a rock and rolling, womanizing, greedy survivor as opposed a venerated visionary.

Cochrane is appalled by the view the future Enterprise crew have of who he was.  He readily admits that his motivation behind creating the warp engine was 100% monetary gain.  He doesn’t recognize the Zefram Cochrane the crew describes to him. But his experiments gained the notice of a passing Vulcan scouting mission and first contact happens.  After that, “everything changes.” Cochrane is an accidental idealist.

What is my point?  We need all voices at the table for humanity to advance.  We need all levels of complexity to participate – all are valid.  We need the dreamers who think without limitation, and we need the pragmatists to remind us of what resources we actually do and do not have.  We need to remember what has been, know what is, and to still be able to envision what might be.  We need to know what's contained in the box, and not be afraid to think outside of it. We must think in complex abstractness and be prepared to let all that fall away, recognizing that some questions are simple ones.

Give me the choice between the realist and the child, and I will pick the child every time.  I’m an idealist.  That’s the role I play.  I’m not wrong.  I'm not stupid.  Neither are the realists.  We need each other for balance.  That’s the intriguing challenge of humanity, the balance of being more than one. It makes progress difficult and laborious.  It also makes whatever progress we achieve together that much more enduring. 

My personal challenge is to remember to be thankful for every single realist in my life. I hope that they embrace the challenge of letting me be who I am, and that we both remember to listen. To quote Zefram Cochrane, “Why not?”


IMPORTANT NOTE: The sharing of this video in this post in no way reflects, nor should be construed to indicate, the support or endorsement by Paramount Pictures of this, or any other work by this author.

No comments:

Post a Comment