Everyone's Biggest Confusion:
How Should We See Other People?
From an Aesthetic Realism Public Seminar
by Miriam Weiss
In his lecture “Aesthetic Realism and People”: Eli Siegel wrote:
Every person who lives, whether in Greenpoint or Persia, gives us a chance of knowing ourselves better. …Aesthetic Realism says once you have a chance to know somebody close or far and you don’t take it, please try to see yourself clearly and profoundly as wrong.
I once saw people mainly in terms of how they were as to me—did they appreciate me and praise me enough, did they smile at me? The idea of really knowing a person, what he or she felt to themselves, never entered into it. I had no idea that my lack of desire to know people was a large reason I felt so unsure of myself and fearful.
I was definitely confused about people. On the one hand I told myself I liked people. After all I was polite and didn’t start fights with them. But outside of a few close friends, I saw most people as too different from me and generally not my type, and of course my type was the right type: quiet, thoughtful, smart. I would swing back and forth from envying girls who were popular and seemed at ease with others to thinking they were brash and phony and not as intelligent as I was. Often when I liked a boy, I felt it was crass to broadcast it, even to him. Even so, when he didn’t return my interest I was chagrined, and told myself “why bother?”
At 12 I remember consciously deciding that it was better to daydream about having a boyfriend than being close to a real, flesh and blood person. I preferred a creation of my own who would praise me without question, and felt I’d come to a clever solution. In an issue of The Right Of titled “Does Our Thought Make Us Proud?” Class Chairman Ellen Reiss describes what I was doing when she writes:
There are many forms of contempt, but the underlying one is: we think about a person in love and daily life, mainly on the basis of whether he is a means of our comfort and importance: will he make much of us, do what we want, can we be superior to him, or through him?
When I had my first Aesthetic Realism consultation at the age of 18, I felt pretty clearly not a success in my relations with people. I was often embarrassed by what I called my shyness and lack of ease but I saw it as a hardship that had been foisted on me by an unfriendly universe--something I had to bear. I was studying Japanese over the summer at Middlebury College and told my consultants:
Right now there’s something bothering me at school. I don’t talk much unless I have something to say, and I can’t think of anything I want to say. That disturbs me because I want to practice my Japanese.
Cons: Do you think anything can give you knowledge that is important? Do you think it matters that you know people?
I began to learn that the way I saw people as interferences with my more high class interests was the chief reason I felt so nervous around them and felt I had nothing to say. A great confusion in my life changed as I learned that when we have unjust contempt for people, see ourselves as superior, we punish ourselves by feeling low and inferior.
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