Hate and Shame.

kickboxing-1

The other day on a CTA train I saw an ad for a kickboxing school that used the above image. And it started me thinking.

You don’t kick someone like that, or put on a pair of boxing gloves, unless you want to cause pain.

Now, I’m sure the people who sign up for a class like this would tell you that they are learning these skills for self-defense, and I’m sure that’s how the school positions it, too. In the case of women, one imagines they tell themselves they are learning these skills to fend off a potential rapist, or an abusive husband. In the case of men, they probably tell themselves they are preparing for a possible encounter with a drunken bully in a bar.

But is that really it? Or is it just a kick to entertain the fantasy of hurting someone?

I think it might be that. Every time I walk past the window of my neighborhood gym, and see the boxing/kickboxing classes that go on in there, it looks like people are having fun!

They may tell you they’re preparing to defend themselves in a dark alley. But I think their minds are really in a dark alley of the soul. They’re thinking about what they’d like to do to their jerk of a boss. Or to a sexual rival. Or to everyone younger than they are, still with their lives ahead of them. Or to everyone older than they are, privileged to have made their careers when the economy was fat. Or to everyone better-looking than they are. Or to the person who’s still working when they’ve been “early-retired.” Or to the person who’s comfortably retired when they still have to work. Or to the happily married person when they’re single. Or to the person with a brood of children when they’re childless. Or to the person with more fame, honor and accomplishments to their credit. Or — I could keep typing and never come close to the end of the list. We spend an inordinate number of hours in every day thinking of one person after another we’d like to kick the living crap out of!

As my friend Jim Dyer put it when I shared some of my thoughts on this with him, “People who say they take martial arts to learn self-defense are like people who say they read Playboy for the articles.”

So let’s just own up to it, people. As human beings, we hate or fear, or hate and fear, every other human being on the planet! We don’t like to think that we do, but we do. Feeling afraid of that feeling, or feeling ashamed of it, probly does us more damage than the feeling itself.

Hatred of others has probably been in us since caveman days. Before we learned to form societies for our mutual benefit, we had, for our survival, to view every other person as an enemy, as a rival for food, shelter and sexual congress.

We then learned the value of love and cooperation. As Barbra Streisand tells us, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” And it’s true.barbra-streisand-people Love is as real a human emotion as hate. And it’s much more useful to our survival. The principal of reciprocity means that if you go around hurting people, people are going to hurt you back. No one wants that. And civilization is built on our awareness of that consequence.

This is why the Ten Commandments exist. This is why in the century before Christ, Rabbi Hillel, in his wisdom, summarized the Torah by saying, “That which is hateful to you, do not do unto others. All the rest is commentary.”

But just because love is more functional than hate doesn’t mean that hate has been magically bred out of us. We should act on love. But we shouldn’t deny that we hate. No good can come of that.

(Judaism, in its wisdom, says comparatively little about the emotions we’re supposed to feel. Most of what it has to say, it has to say about the way we should act — which is a whole different thing.)

Love isn’t just a useful emotion. It is a primal one. Otherwise, why would we want good things for the people we like and love? There is no selfish utility in that. Why would we continue to love our parents and our siblings long after we’ve left home? We must feel it because we really have love in us. And why does it feel good to help others in need? Again, only because we really do have the milk of human kindness in our veins.

But we also have bile in our bellies.

Since both hate and love are in us, it makes no more sense to be ashamed of hate than it would to be ashamed of love. All shame does is make you feel disconnected, alienated and alone. How’s that for irony? The earth is filled with people who feel the same emotions, yet feel they’re the only ones who feel them. So instead, let’s accept the hate in us. Let’s, if possible, love the hate in us — just as much as we love the love. After all, if it’s in there, and we hate it, then we’re hating ourselves. But maybe — and here’s a paradox for you — even our self-hate is something we can learn to love.

Happy New Year, everyone. And peace. Not because war, violence, and wanting to kick the crap out of someone on an hourly basis are foreign to our nature. But just because it’s no way to act.

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All Things Must Pass.


Birds of Britain.

I’m a member of the Songbirds group (devoted to the singers of classic pop and jazz—here’s a screengrab of the group’s home page

and here’s a link that will take you to some acutely perceptive album reviews by our acutely perceptive members. But today’s post is about a whole different kind of songbird.

We were just in London and the Cotswolds for about two weeks (for more on the latter region, an almost unbelievably beautiful, pastoral, idyllic part of England, click here), and one of the very first things you notice, even if you’re a nature clod like me who never notices these things, is the profusion of lovely birdsong all about you. Even in the middle of London every park and square is full of song we never hear in the Colonies. In some kind of cosmic coincidence, on one of our first mornings in London we took a guided Beatles walking tour, and having arrived at the tour’s start (Marylebone Station) a bit early, we took a walk around the neighborhood. In a pocket park near the station we heard a birdsong we’d never heard before, and we looked up to see (and snap) this blackbird. Perhaps a descendant of the very one that inspired Paul to write the song of the same name!

Here is the song of an English blackbird so you can hear what we (and Paul) heard.

In the Cotswolds, we were surrounded by beautiful birdsong, much of which we’d never heard before. I think it must be that England’s temperate climate has over the eons encouraged a profusion and variety of birds beyond anything we know in the United States. Someone has created a YouTube video that takes you there:

The birds of Britain are so famous, in fact, that many books of an ornithological bent have been written with Birds of Britain in the title. (To see just a few of them, click here.) I, however, have a whole different kind of book with that title, a large-format hardback (today we’d called it “coffee table”) book of photographs that I acquired on my first visit to London in 1969. The birds in this Birds of Britain are not feathered–they’re the actresses, songstresses and models of swinging 60’s London. Pattie Boyd (George’s girlfriend, also the cover girl), Jane Asher (Paul’s bird), Susannah York, Charlotte Rampling, Edina Ronay, Chrissie Shrimpton, and more, many more. My first edition (the dustjacket a little the worse for wear) is one of my most treasured objects. You can see by visiting Alibris that first editions of the book are going from several hundred dollars to well over a thousand. I’m not parting with mine.