Early influences are always catalogued by observers of actions that disrupt the equilibrium of either the self or others. Thus, if one submits to psychotherapy, a history must be taken. In my very first psychotherapy session, when I was 22 years old, my therapist said: “So, everything was fine until you were 19?!” Which , of course, affirmed. The subsequent and continuing journey into the shadows of both my memory and my self reveals of course that this is not so. Fine cannot describe the lived experience of any human being. For lived experience though delicate is not as bland as good days are generally imagined to be.
However, the influence and question of goodness remains central to any history. For, through early experiences of, and identification with, goodness, one can learn to transcend the lure of descents into compromise with, and overwhelming sadness at, the state of things around one.
In recent years I have become a devotee of the writings and utterances of the great and brave thinkers, Chomsky and Zinn. Importantly, they both speak of their early influences in terms of their observations of the trauma of the working class poor of whom they were a part. The source of their resilience in dedicating their lives to speaking up for the poor and politically powerless is not known to me. Zinn, in his late years, appeared in video interviews to have achieved a deep inner peace of the kind reserved for the gurus who have removed themselves from the world in order to meditate it back to wholeness. Chomsky remains robust in his campaign to out the powerful who drive us towards extinction; the dispossession of the poor, their dignity and economic rights, being a mere step on this path.
As political anarchists and philosophers they do not appear to reference a source of goodness as their bulwark against the resistance they encountered, and which Chomsky and his ilk, continue to experience.
So, what drives and sustains these men, and others like them, women among them? And if not goodness, then what?
Growing up Catholic, my own early benchmarks of goodness were found in the likes of Mother Teresa, Jesus Christ, and a plethora of saints, after some of whom my sisters and I were named. While Mother Teresa was reportedly not as saintly as portrayed by her paymasters, the image of her that was presented to me was flawless and thus worthy of emulation. Therefore, in terms of this aspect of my personal history, her eventual exposure as a weak effigy of charity, is not as important as might be thought. Jesus Christ was presented as both totally loving and courageously defiant. In this, therefore, he was to be emulated as much as mythological heros who are willing to tolerate public rejection and disdain in order to realise goodness in the world around them. The plethora of saints were most inspiring in their named attributes, ranging from those who can help one to find lost things to those who would die rather than recant their core beliefs.
While my spiritual journey no longer requires identification with these historical bodies, their early influences remain profound, I realise, and for this at least I am indebted to my parents, who filled our minds with beliefs in the power of goodness to overcome all else.
(to be continued)