Friday, December 29, 2017
Why write? When Flannery O’Conner was asked this, she responded, “to know what I am thinking.”
Makes sense. Especially for extraverts—as defined by Meyers-Briggs as those minds who process externally in distinction from introverts who think things out internally before expressing. Ask my partner. I drive her crazy by my talking to myself. When I chair a committee, run a team, or call a staff meeting, I usually tell the participants to realize that just because I say something doesn’t mean that I hold what I say as a position. I’m just thinking out loud.
So, for me, writing is not only knowing what I’m thinking but also finishing what I’m thinking. Like a carpenter finishes a table after he’s made it. A thought is an invention, a product, that needs to be planed, varnished, sanded, and polished. Thoughts are images, words, formulas, models, symbols that connect feelings, smells, hearings, tastes, and other experiences. They are categories that combine and analogies (and other figures of speech) that denote. We make them up and use them to communicate to each other. Ordinary language, and the languages of art, science, religion, morality, and social order constitute our world and our reality.
Whoa! Let’s be clear here. Am I saying that our words, formulas, models, images are inventions? Artifacts? And that they constitute reality? Isn’t it rather that they are tools to help us discover and know reality as it really is?
Yes, indeed, both. Thoughts, the product of our thinking, help us both construct and discover realities and the reality of the world and the universe, including ourselves. The construction and the discovery is one and the same process of thinking which is never quite finished. Mainly because our thinking is part of what we are thinking about. We both catch it and lose it in the act.
Knowledge of things occurs when we relate them and show how that relationship works to predict other relationships which then produce other relationships. We are on an unending quest to construct and discover the relationship of everything to everything. Because we construct truth does not make it relative. Because we discover truth does not make it absolute. Truth is neither relative nor absolute. Truth is relational. And relations are real and define reality.
I get other people’s ideas when I read or hear them. I write or connect their ideas so they become mine as well; but I change them and me in the process. I write to put our ideas out in the forum where they can be criticized, evaluated, corrected, and finished.
The Trumpian reaction of 2017 confused me. I did not understand how a democratic Republic, as I characterized my nation, could be so xenophobic, racist, mean to newcomers, misogynist, anti-science, illiberal, white-supremacist. I no longer knew if I belonged. I had to figure out who I am, what I believe, and most of all how it could happen that so many people, and an entire political party, could be so antithetic to my values and even my vocation in life.
And so, I reflected and read and considered what was happening from many viewpoints, especially trying to understand the viewpoints of those who wanted to send immigrants back to their countries of origin, who believed that America should be first and over all other nations, who judged “white” people superior to persons of color, who didn’t care about global warming or other environmental damage, who thought that government was alien to the people.
Then I wrote.
I wrote about the meaning of being and growing soul—the spiritual, transcending, and empathetic dimension of humanity. That helped me understand that the human experiment is indeed a process that is dialectical, at every moment ranged between polls that could lead to destruction or creation.
I wrote about the three choices facing our nation with origins in our founding and examples through its history under various names: Populist Nationalism, Economic Liberalism, and Democratic Republicanism. I discerned their roots in the structure of human existence. And the disorder in its elements. That helped me understand what I first found unintelligible and malicious in current events.
I wrote about the difference and interaction between race and class. And the confusion of visible cultural identity with invisible economic systems. That helped me understand how race, religion, origin, and sexuality became covers and excuses for disrespect, inequity, and exploitation.
I wrote about people, especially those I lived and worked with and those by my own vocation I cared most about. I confronted our despair, cruelty, fear of others, greed, powerlessness; and I saw the possibilities of hope, kindness, rapport, compassion, and possibility itself. That helped me understand how we together have choices and that the way out of victimhood was action with those people.
I will no longer be a suffering patient. I will be a healing agent. I will resist. I will struggle. I will overcome.
That’s why I write.