By Michael Palmer
The Debate in Every Person: to Have
More Feeling or Less?
Until the age of 33, when I began to study Aesthetic
Realism, I thought having more feeling about something, and showing
it, was a sign of weakness. When I heard Rudyard Kipling's poem "If," with
its famous beginning, "If you can keep your head when all about you/ Are
losing theirs," and the conclusion, "you'll be a Man my son!" I thought,
"yes," that's the way to be!" But, I also felt dull, half-alive.
Aesthetic Realism shows with clear logic that the way we'll really take
care of ourselves is to have want to know and have large, accurate feeling
for people and things. And it shows too what in ourselves that is
against that: our desire to be superior, to have contempt.
In his lecture "Aesthetic Realism and Your Feelings," Eli
Siegel explained, "Every time a person felt something, no matter what
it was, there was knowledge about something." Growing up I liked learning
about people who had feeling for others and a good effect on them.
I remember being moved at age 7 as I heard the broadcast of President Franklin
Roosevelt's funeral just weeks before the end of World War ll. He
had guided the country through a terrible depression and the war, and even
as a boy, I felt bad and wished he could have lived to see the Allies victory.
I liked reading about those who fought heroically against fascism, and
was moved at the climax of the documentary film "Victory in Europe," as
American and Soviet troops, met and embraced at the Elbe River south of
Berlin. But I was embarrassed having such feelings and tried
to keep them to myself. "There are some people," Mr. Siegel explained in
an Aesthetic Realism lesson:
who feel strength is
in not having too big a feeling--and if they do have it--to hide it.
Many people feel to be mum is to feel like an emperor. If we are
less intense than someone else, we think we are superior.
I did think I was superior,
especially to my father and older brother who more readily showed their
emotion. My father tried to have me excited about things, taking
me to movies, stage shows, the Bronx Zoo, and baseball games. He
loved the Brooklyn Dodgers and could describe with zest players he had
a big feeling about, enacting their unique styles. This included
his favorite pitcher, Freddie Fitzsimmons who could fool batters by whirling
all the way towards second base before throwing to the plate. To
my father's enthusiasm I responded by being cool, feeling like a little
emperor. He would introduce me to friends and business associates,
and it was clear I preferred being elsewhere. My parents told their
friends I was "shy," and while I hated myself for it, I felt driven.
In a class early in my study with him Mr. Siegel spoke of shyness, asking
Do you think
you are troubled by two things that have been around a long time: timidity
and arrogance? Very often arrogance one is not sure of comes out
As I thought about it I
saw I was arrogant; I felt most people were not worth knowing. And my shame
of this made me timid when I was around them.
Should We See a Person?
I felt desperate to be warmer. Working as a sportswriter for a radio
station, I became friendly with one of the newscasters, whom I'll call
Bill Osborne, his wife Laura and their two young children. While
I knew Bill using marijuana and I worried about him, I wasn't really interested
in knowing what he felt. His drug-taking intensified, and he eventually
returned to his home state in the midwest. Several months later I
was shocked to hear that Bill had died of a self-inflicted bullet wound.
I went to visit Laura, and even imagined taking his place with her, but
again I wasn't interested in what she felt. One day, as I was trying
to cheer her up, reminiscing about the "good times" we'd had, she suddenly
screamed at me, "You are so damn cool!" I was stunned and felt horrible.
When I learned about Aesthetic Realism I began to understand the fight
in me between feeling more and feeling less. In one of the first
classes taught by him I attended Mr. Siegel asked me, "Do you resent the
fact that you have to think of another person? Do you feel angry
you have to punch the time clock of emotion?" The answer was yes.
I was so concentrated on what should be coming to me, I felt I couldn't
afford to have feeling for anyone else. Mr. Siegel said to me, "Your
mistake is not seeing the full possibility of a person." And he explained
that to like myself I needed to "see what another person hopes for."
For me this was
a revolution! As I began to ask how I could have a good effect on
people, my life changed, and I had feelings I never dreamed of. One
of the cherished results is my happy marriage to
Lynette Abel, the woman I love.
For People, Near and Far
In the lesson I quoted
from, Mr. Siegel said,
One should ask, what
is one's greatest question. [It] can be put very simply: Do I have the
best feeling for people and other things that are not myself, all of them,
near and far?
speak now about a man whose feeling for his nation made him one of the
important figures of the last century--French General and statesman--Charles
De Gaulle. His insistence that France was still a fighting
force after the Nazis had taken it over led to the resistance that eventually
restored France. Then more then a decade later, he would save that
country from almost certain civil war. In a 1964 lecture, "Drama Is about
Instinct," Mr. Siegel spoke about the feeling De Gaulle could make for
when he said:
Suppose a person sees
General De Gaulle going down the road in Rio de Janeiro, the instinct might
be for the person to take his hat and wave and say, 'Viva le General!'
He might want to run toward's De Gaulle's vehicle. An emotion makes
for an instinct.
Born in 1890 in the northern France town of Lille, Charles De Gaulle grew
up in an atmosphere steeped in the history of France. One of his
ancestors was a nobleman in the Battle of Agincourt some 500 years earlier,
and his father fought in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Charles
was reading the history of France before he was five years old--especially
its military history. He also took great interest in Shakespeare,
Goethe, and French writers--Montaigne, Pascal and Chateaubriand.
And he had a big feeling for justice. One of his early heroes
was Daniel O'Connell, known as the liberator of Ireland, who spent his
life fighting for the freedom of the people in the Catholic region. "Deep
in every person," Mr. Siegel said, "is the question of whether we should
feel more or less."
Meanwhile, even as De Gaulle had a big feeling about France and justice,
he also went for less feeling. Writes biographer Don Cook, "He was
a loner from the start....He always remained remote, aloof, distant from
fellow officers." As Aesthetic Realism shows--and it was true about me--being
aloof and distant is contempt, and always makes for less feeling and a
As an officer in the first World War, De Gaulle was wounded three times--the
last in the horrific Battle of Verdun in which he was also captured and
imprisoned by the Germans until war's end. He used time in prison
to study battle strategy, and after the war, as he advanced in the French
military, he continually urged that the French army be more mobile, mechanized
so it could counter the growing Nazi threat in Germany. But the French
government ignored him.
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