The trustees’ meeting went against me, its purpose not to address the issues but to attack me personally. Being a pessimist, I was prepared for the worst, and the worst was what I got—yelling, wild accusations, red faces, popped eyes, quivering lips, trembling hands, faces contorted with rage, and people leaning forward as if to leap at my throat. Through it all, I remained calm. At one point, I even laughed aloud at the absurdity of it all.
If a person feels superior to his fellows, he risks being blinded to their virtues. Yet, how hard it is to not wall others up within the confines of a small and remote cell in my mind, a cell with a sign over the door that reads “worthless.” For example, when I was locking my bike up in front of the library yesterday I overheard the following: “Man, I was so fucking wasted that I fucking didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.” This level of exchange is commonplace. In the library’s new book section, I came across how-to books on graffiti and moonshine.
I know that my fellow trustees, the hangers-on in front of the library, and those librarians who consider it their First Amendment duty to instruct adolescents in criminality; are members of my species. I know that somewhere within them a light shines that is akin to my own. Yet, I am challenged to remain open to that light—it being so dim—and the fact that I am able to do so at all comes through considerable struggle. I want to see what is instead of seeing merely the labels I have placed upon what is. To feel that I know, really know, a thing is to close myself off from new information about it. The extent to which I am able to maintain objectivity is the extent to which reason reigns over feeling as my guiding principal.
But look at which of the two rules the world. Most of my fellow trustees were only too glad to give themselves over to anger. They even felt entitled to their anger because, as they saw it, I MADE them angry. Witness the slavery implicit within this conclusion. Look at the teenage drunks and druggies in front of the library. Where is the clear thinking that rules their lives? They too are slaves to feeling. School, society, and family being flawed, they feel justified in devoting their lives to drugs and crime. Look at how most people relate to food or sex. Is a “super-sized burger, Coke, and fries” a rational choice for lunch? Is losing your family—or your presidency—for a toss in the sack reasonable?
We are not a rational species but rather a species that sometimes uses rationality to achieve goals that were emotionally determined. There is no ridding ourselves of emotion as a central force in our lives, but we need to understand that emotions can become to our lives what cataracts are to our vision, and that rationality is the only antidote. We get into trouble when, instead of striving for congruence between feeling and reason, we embrace feeling and abandon reason. Our dilemma is that we often don’t know we are doing this. Indeed, in the absence of intelligence and maturity (maturity of character not years) we are doomed to fail much of the time. Just as a toddler trips when walking, we trip when we try to enthrone reason as our guiding principal.
And, if we live a long, long time, there is every chance that senility will rob us of whatever measure of reason we have managed to achieve. But our certain dissolution is of no consequence to us in the present. It’s as if life is saying, “You will lose everything anyway, but for today you can give yourself to the tutelage of reason, or you can surrender yourself a slave to feeling—you decide.” Look at the world and witness the response.
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