Aesthetic Realism Consultant Nancy Huntting
 
Vera Brittain
Vera Brittain, WWI

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"What Is True Courage--Including in Love?"

by Nancy Huntting, August 2000, New York City 

III.  Respect for the World Makes for Courage

It is the privilege of my life to teach with my colleagues in Aesthetic Realism consultations, given in person and via telephone to other cities and countries.  Women learn about contempt in themselves and have greater respect for the world, and the result is they become more courageous and proud; this includes the field of love.

      Jennifer Matlow is a young Canadian woman who teaches math in a public school, and studies in consultations.  She had traveled extensively, and was proud of her academic achievements, but she wrote that, "I worried one day I would not be able to remember what I learned," and, she said, "I was scared that I might not be able to feel at all."  While Miss Matlow cared for both science and art, she told us she was very unsure of herself as a teacher, and said "to hide it I am stiff and hard with my students."  And she also worried that she might not have real love in her life.

     We asked her, "How much have you wanted to feel separate from the world?"  She did feel separate, she said, "I felt I had to fight the world to protect myself."  "Are you in a fight between the scientist, and your desire to have your own world," we asked, "your own laws?"  "Yes, I think I am," she said.

     She told us she got away from her family as soon as she could because "the atmosphere was unbearable."  Like so many people, she was angry at her parents and felt hurt by them, and she had used them to dislike the whole world.  One of the early assignments we gave her was to write a monologue of the thoughts of her father, who she said she had admired, but felt was cold to her.  She began to see her father as having questions every man has, and not as just against her. "You have had a whole career in wanting to punish your parents," we told her.  "We are trying to have you see what is true about them.  Should we go by what's true," we asked, "or what makes us important?"

     As she did the monologue of her father's thoughts -- about her mother, his work as surveyor and geologist, books and people he was affected by-- Miss Matlow said she began to remember how much he had encouraged her care for knowledge, and wasn't just cold. "Many more memories are coming back," she told us, "and I have a desire deep in my heart to understand my father."  And seeing him more accurately, she felt more hopeful about love.

IV. Courage and Love

Courage, Aesthetic Realism taught me, is necessary for us to honestly love another person.  Mr. Siegel explains the reason men and women have pained each other in love, in the preface to his essay "The Ordinary Doom":

We haven't yet come to the courage needed to have ourselves be seen and to see another fully....Our attitude to the world is still one of fear, one of contempt, and one of aloofness.  This means that whomever we know, our attitude to that person will be one of fear, contempt, aloofness.
      When Vera Brittain was coming to know Roland Leighton -- the handsome friend of her brother who took all the top academic prizes on "Speech Day"-- she was both affected by him and fearful.  She wrote, "He interests me so deeply and strangely, this serious-minded, brilliant, unusual young man."  But later she says, "I felt in danger of liking him too well to be altogether comfortable."  Roland Leighton

       In the spring of 1915, 19-year-old Roland Leighton, like many young men, was sent to the front in France.  For 5 months in which she was filled with constant and truly warranted fear, they wrote to each other, and her account of their correspondence is moving.  The life-and-death worry made them kinder and more courageous in showing what they truly felt; they both had greater feeling about thousands of other people as they increasingly questioned why this horror had come to be.

      Her response, though, when he came home on a short leave, and suggested hesitantly they might become engaged, was not kind, or courageous.  She writes in her diary:

I thought I would test him by using a little scorn and so I said as contemptuously as I knew how, 'My dear child, you don't know--'
     'What don't I know?' he asked.
     'Your own mind,' I answered... 
He soon became cool, too, and then both of them distant for the rest of the day.  A woman can feel she is bold in treating a man this way -- but this is not courage, it is contempt which we think will protect us from a world we are afraid of being affected by -- and it makes us cruel. 

       She accepted his proposal the next day, but four months later, Roland Leighton was shot and killed.  "Often since," she wrote, "I have felt repentant about refusing to say good-night, or treating him with even assumed indifference after all he had been through."

       There is courage in her repentance -- she is trying to criticize herself accurately.  Part of what impelled her, I believe, to remain a nurse throughout the rest of the war and go to the front, was regret for the way she had been cold and unkind. Earlier in 1915, as Vera Brittain began learning medical instruments and dressings at a London hospital -- she wrote about her training to be a nurse, "love of learning is part of the very essence of my being."  It was her care for knowledge that saved her from what she described as "the harsh, unmelting bitterness into which I had been frozen" after Roland Leighton was killed.

      Courage, Mr. Siegel shows in his definition, arises from the desire to know, and not stop knowing -- even when the facts may not seem comfortable or advantageous for us: "Real courage," he says, "which wishes to be graceful, is always after the facts."  Vera Brittain worked long hours, and all-night shifts until she was physically exhausted, seeing overwhelming agony we can only partly realize through her writing; seeing slow, excruciatingly painful, death.

       In 1967 Mr. Siegel said in a lecture about World War I, "People think the shock is over, but the world has not recovered."  It affected the direction of Vera Brittain's entire life. She felt she had to try to prevent future war: she worked for the League of Nations, and later became an outspoken pacifist. 

        "It was contempt that made for the trenches in France in 1915," wrote Eli Siegel in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known # 165 "What Caused the Wars": "it was contempt which made for the labor camps of the Second World War." In the study of Aesthetic Realism is the explanation of war and where it begins in every person, including those who run nations. 

V. Courage and Aesthetic Realism Consultations

The change in Jennifer Matlow's life is one of an increasing desire to know and like the world, and increasing true courage. She had pain as to love, but she began to learn that love is a subject of education: she has written assignments such as: "Are there laws about love in the same way there are laws of mathematics?" and "How I am like Madame Bovary?" 

     She told us in one consultation, "I would like to look at a man and feel I want to know him, not want to conquer him. I don't like myself for that." We asked, 

Consultants:  Is it more thrilling to see the meaning of the world through a man, than to have him silly about you?  That's what you need to feel in order to honestly love someone.  But have you felt women are superior to men? 

Jennifer Matlow:  Yes.  That is what I've felt.

Consultants:  "Einstein was a lightweight?"

"No," said Miss Matlow, laughing.  We gave her an assignment to write a list of things she would respect in a man; and we asked, "Do you think knowing a man is as much a subject as, say, algebra?"  When she met and began to care for Michael Forelli, a teacher of art, she respected his knowledge and the way he was self-critical. She told us with a new pride and pleasure in her voice that she was more courageous in showing herself to Mr. Forelli, including her doubts and questions. "Our conversations are having a good effect on us!" she said. As she's become deeper and more accurate about people, she also has come to have large feeling about her students and love teaching. 

      What has happened to Jennifer Matlow stands for what can occur in every woman's life.  She wrote to us in a document for her consultations:

I am one of the happiest and most fortunate women alive.... Aesthetic Realism taught me, and for this I will be grateful forever, that my contempt for the world caused me to feel depressed and worthless....[I learned] the deepest thing in me is related to the deepest truth about the world. "The world, art and self explain each other; each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites," Eli Siegel saw.  This is the greatest truth ever discovered.  Learning this, I never felt alone again...for the first time I feel at home in the world.
I am proud to agree with Miss Matlow. The study of Aesthetic Realism makes possible the courageous and truly happy lives women are yearning to have, all people are yearning to have.

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