Aesthetic Realism Consultant Nancy Huntting

Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) American author & journalist

Aesthetic Realism Public Seminar

The Fight in Every Woman Between Selfishness & Generosity
by Nancy Huntting

Presented at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, New York City, December 2001

Like many people, I wanted to be generous, but was selfish in ways I tried to make look noble.  In The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known #114, Mr. Siegel describes the two directions we all have:

Man is a being given to self-interest simultaneously with his having a mind inclusive of everything and unable to separate itself from a regard for all life, all reality....The first lack of good sense in man is his failure to see that he has two directions; and to see what harm two directions have done to him. The great harm, Aesthetic Realism shows, occurs when our interest in ourselves makes us contemptuous of the world we are born to know and like. 
To solve the fight in us between selfishness and generosity—this is what we most need to know! 

In 1973 I met Aesthetic Realism and the accuracy and generosity of Eli Siegel's good will for the whole world.  Life really began for me then, and my gratitude is unlimited. Tonight I speak about my own life and what a woman is learning in Aesthetic Realism consultations, and about aspects of the life of the writer and journalist, Martha Gellhorn; born in St. Louis in 1908, she died in 1998 at the age of 89. 

Tall, lovely and blonde, Martha Gellhorn had nearly every advantage money and education could provide, and easily could have chosen a pampered, selfish life.  I respect very much that she could never settle for this.  There was a fight about it throughout her life which caused pain, including in the 5 years she was married to Ernest Hemingway—meanwhile, there was an impelling desire in her to meet reality in its diversity, to be affected deeply, to give her thought honestly.  This generosity made for powerful, valuable expression. 

She is the only journalist ever black-listed and barred from returning to South Vietnam because the articles she wrote were so passionately critical of our horrible bombing and napalming of men, women and children. We can learn from the fight in her—and the way her life shows the most truly selfish purpose is fairness to the world. 

1. Self Love Makes for Emptiness

As a child I used my parents excessive praise of me to have contempt and to feel sated— that I didn't have to give my attention to other things or people.  As I got older, this debilitating selfishness continued. 

In 1968, after my college boyfriend, David Harper, was sent to Vietnam, I was angry that for months he didn't write—not because I was concerned about his life, but because I wasn't the most important thing in it.  I didn't give one thought to what he was feeling and I made unreal the fact that children, mothers, husbands were being killed there.  When he came back and wanted to see me—I had a new boyfriend.  I saw David once because, I told myself, I felt "sorry" for him.  And then I had the nerve to complain that his return was presenting a tough situation for me!

Because I deeply saw taking care of myself as lessening everything else,  by the time I was 27 I felt dull, empty, half alive.  I had a terrific desire to be served, and the man I lived with made all the decisions and arranged all our social activities.  The most I gave myself was in refinishing chairs in my antique store; I had a feeling of pride as I saw a lovely vitality and color came out of darkly caked, dry wood.  But I always felt tired and we quarreled more and more. 

Then, by the greatest good fortune, I met Aesthetic Realism.  In my first consultation I learned why I disliked myself and felt so stuck.  My consultants asked what I had most against myself, and I said it was an "attitude I have that I'm not able to do things."  "What's the big competition to interest in other things?" they asked. 

Nancy Huntting:  A sense of insecurity, I think.

"Do you think the big competition," they asked,

Consultants:  —is interest in oneself?  You felt the world was not too worthy of your deep, constant consideration?

NH:  I was mostly concerned with myself.

 I told them I thought I was afraid of the world, and they gave this tremendously important explanation of why:

Consultants:  Do you think you came to a picture of things that had too much contempt in it?

NH:  Yes.

Consultants:  If there were a situation or a person you were fair to, would you feel afraid of that?

No!  In consultations and later in classes with Eli Siegel, my contempt and selfishness were beautifully criticized. Mr. Siegel described something so ordinary and hurtful in people as he explained: 

When one person looks at another, it is so much easier to say, "This person has given me pain" than "Have I been fair to this person?"
I began to learn what it means to think deeply about other people, beginning with my mother and father.  For the first time, I thought about what my father felt inside, and even though he had died I began to really try to know him; and my mother and I, instead of fighting, became so much kinder—we were really able to listen to each other and like our conversations! As I was more accurate and just in how I thought about people, I felt a self-respect and energy I had never felt before.  I began to be able to like myself and like being on this earth! 

Aesthetic Realism Consultant Nancy Huntting. All rights reserved.