Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Wednesday, March 8: Crashing Reality

Stimulated by the Oscars, I rented and watched Crash. I’d seen it, partly, once in the theaters, and had walked out, tired of what seemed like an endless set-up of many varieties of racial prejudice and mistreatment. By watching the whole mo vie I got to see a couple of redemptive moments and got to see that, if nothing else, the movie was a tour de force of multi-plot writing.

And still, the whole notion of racism as the ugly underbelly of America seems both profound and untrue in a certain way. This is not, not, not to say that there isn’t plenty of racism in this fair land, that we don’t have a propensity to drop atom bombs on dark people, or go savagely to war with dark people in Southeast Asia, or profile Arabs and Muslims as the new bad guys, or that black people aren’t still automatically assumed either inferior or criminal or both, or that the Spanish speaking folks in California aren’t seen as whatever, whatever, and still…

I think the primary ailment in this movie and in most human life is self-hatred. No one in this movie liked themselves, except maybe the shopkeeper’s daughter and the nice family of the black locksmith, and the Spanish maid. True to reality, these five people were the only ones in the movie who didn’t go “off” on someone of a different race, or “off” on someone of their own race, if they were black. Well, maybe the two thieves had epiphanies and were more clear with themselves by the end, but still, the drift of the whole shebang was people projecting self-hatred onto others.

Race makes this easier, but you can go to any town in the world and find at least half the people in some sort of major or minor feud with their literal neighbors. It may just be whispering among themselves about what’s wrong, or stupid or insensitive or crazy about their neighbors, but it goes on all the time, undoubtedly much more so if the neighbor is a different race, but it goes on.

And on and on.

So what’s the cure for self-hatred?

The phony cure is self-esteem, to pump oneself up with affirmations. I am good. I am worthy. I am wonderful. The real cure is to come into the present and find something interesting or creative or useful to do with ourselves. Then we can like ourselves for being actively and happily engaged in life. Then when our neighbor or the ethnically different car driver is acting “weird,” we have something better to do with our attention than get in their business and demand that they shape up.

And when we are in the present and doing something useful or creative or interesting, when we are literally tending to our own garden or writing our own stories and songs, or taking a bowl of soup to a shut in, then we are wonderful, we are good, we are worthy, and we feel that way. We don’t need to pump ourselves up with affirmations. We are pumped with living life the way it is best lived: fully and happily, with curiosity and verve.

Of course Feldenkrais and the work of Byron Katie can help this transition, so could taking a walk outdoors instead of being depressed, or volunteering to help instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, or planting a garden of good organic food instead of sitting around feeling bad about our weight. If our job sucks, the cure isn’t to self-esteem ourselves into loving it, but to develop skills or outlets to find a job we love. Meanwhile, of course, hating the job is a waste of time, how can we be present and curious and learning even from a “bad” job while we are creating a world for ourselves so we can move into a better one?


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