Aesthetic Realism Consultant Nancy Huntting


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Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) American author & journalist

Aesthetic Realism Seminar
The Fight in Every Woman Between Selfishness & Generosity
by Nancy Huntting
Presented at an Aesthetic Realism Seminar, New York City, December 2001

Part 4.  Honesty about Regret 

 In 1967 Martha Gellhorn went to Vietnam and wrote a series of articles, only two accepted for publication in the U.S.  These sentences appeared in the January 1968 Ladies Home Journal in her article titled "Suffer the Little Children..."  They piercingly, powerfully oppose selfishness:

American weapons are killing and wounding uncounted Vietnamese children.... I have witnessed modern war in nine countries, but I have never seen a war like the one in South Vietnam....  In the Qui Nhon provincial hospital I saw... what napalm does.  A child of seven... lay in the cot by the door.  Napalm had burned his face and back and one hand.... All week, the little boy cried with pain, but now he was better.  He had stopped crying.  He was only twisting his body, as if trying to dodge his incomprehensible torture....
           More and more dead and wounded children will cry out to the conscience of the world.... Someday our children, whom we love, may blame us for dishonoring America because we did not care enough about children 10,000 miles away.
As I read the many articles and obituaries written at the time of Martha Gellhorn's death in February 1998, again and again they only mention the word Vietnam in a list of the wars she covered.  I saw with new vividness how our country is hurt now by its huge evasion of regret about that horrendously selfish, ugly war. 

Mr. Siegel is the person who described it straight and described it early—"that war," he said about Vietnam,

was to prop up, maintain, show as inevitable a profit system that the keenest and kindest people of the world have talked against for many years, from John Stuart Mill to Matthew Arnold, from Emerson to William Dean Howells.
Martha Gellhorn's courageous honesty about Vietnam is something I respect tremendously; I believe it made for a greater kindness, aliveness, keenness in her. 

That our very lives and sanity depend on our criticizing and honestly regretting selfishness of the past is in an interview she gave in 1997, the year before her death.  Asked by Sheila MacVicar of ABC News:

Sheila MacVicar:   With all of the conflict you saw, what haunts you now?

Gellhorn:   I hated Vietnam the most, because I felt personally responsible.  It was my own country doing this abomination. I am talking about what was done... to the people whom we, supposedly, had come to save.... My complete horror remains [with] me as a source of grief and anger and shame that surpasses all the others. 
. . . .
Peter Prichard (Freedom Forum Fdn. USA):   So you do not really believe in objectivity, the way it is traditionally defined?

Gellhorn:  I don't know what [objectivity means].  We have only our own eyes and our own ears.  You can't just look...and say there is no difference between right and wrong,... between just and unjust.  I believe that is a definition of insanity.... 

5. Good Will: The Real Selfishness

What Martha Gellhorn, so admirable, needed to know about how to see a man close to her, women are now learning in Aesthetic Realism consultations.  Stacey Mathews*, an English teacher, told her Aesthetic Realism consultants she had increasing difficulty teaching and had thought of giving it up.  Divorced, she was bitter about love and was troubled about a man she was dating.  "I don't feel I'm kind in my thoughts about him," she said. 

 We began teaching her that good will is generosity and true selfishness at once.  It is, Eli Siegel explained, "the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful" and begins with the desire to know.  We asked her, Do you think when you were married you wanted to know your husband?"  She answered courageously:

Stacey Mathews:  No.  I was interested in the things I could get for myself, but I didn't want to know him, no. 
What has made it impossible for women really to know a man is our seeing him as existing to glorify us.  When we asked Miss Mathews, "Do you think you want a man to exist, fully, outside yourself?" she said, surprised, "I'm not sure I do." 

One of the questions we asked about her father, whom she both extolled and resented, was: "Which is grander—seeing him alternately as a cad and a hero, or understanding him?"  She was surprised by this question and very thoughtful.

 Stacey Mathews education has continued.  She has been learning what it means really to take care of herself, to be truly selfish.  She has done many assignments: for example, writing about how her father sees his own mother; about the hopes and fears of a student of hers; a sentence every day about how she is like another person—this was a turning point—and reading and commenting on novels such as Jane Eyre, Tom Jones, and Madame Bovary as a means of understanding all people better.  She wrote to us:

I once felt nothing could penetrate me very deeply. Aesthetic Realism has made possible the changes occurring in my life. My relation with my family is changing, becoming kinder. I am a better teacher. My feelings for the subject and for my students have increased tremendously. I care more and more for people.
Through the study of Aesthetic Realism every woman can learn how to make sense of the fight in her between selfishness and generosity.  There is no more important education for individuals and nations —and when it is known and studied everywhere, our dear, generous earth and all its people, which Mr. Siegel loved and understood so magnificently, will come into their own!

* Stacey Mathews: This  name has been changed for public presentation.

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