Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Fortune Favours the Bold ... An Epilogue

[My previous post, Fortes Fortuna Adiuvat (Fortune Favours the Bold), published on Into The Bardo and reblogged here at the beginning of August, was deeply thoughtful but, with hindsight, there was more to it than I originally envisaged. In consequence, and particularly with due deference to the several readers, who persevered to read, like and even comment on it, here is my attempt to explain it better, prompted it must be said, by a chance conversation].

I attended a poetry reading at the end of August, after which I had a chance conversation with one of those present, who was an active Christian. The conversation seemed to be going well; it was a very open and enjoyable chat, which I also thought was progressing. This was until, having listened to a bit of his life story that inevitably involved poetry and writing as well as a somewhat troubled childhood, it entered the realms of conflict in the Middle East and, of course, religion. 

I confessed that I had started my life as a church going Christian, but, on reaching the age of majority, having escaped the clutches of childhood and commenced the study of science, I started to develop my own habits of deep philosophical thought, that from very early adulthood had involved an awareness that everything, and I mean everything, starts and ends with what goes on inside our heads, between our ears. Ghosts, spirits, the unknown, all reveal themselves with a chemical reaction, a spark between selected synapses. I then ventured to say that, whilst I could probably go back to church in certain circumstances, because its teachings were ingrained in me and I appreciated its values, I had begun to appreciate that I was possibly an atheist, or more likely that I had some kind of pantheistic outlook. It was then that I, seemingly, made a mistake by making the statement - preceded by my admission of the fact that I was no scholar in the field of theology - that I thought all religions had the same purpose, the same basic values: that they all engendered the need to bring the people of a community together, under one roof, under one set of common values, to encourage and teach us all to be respectful of our fellow beings ...

"Have you experienced other religions" he interjected
"No" replied I, rather taken aback, "and, as I said, I'm not a theologian"
"Do you beat your wife?" I saw a flame in his eyes.
"No!" I confirmed.

Now, he had already made reference, in a reading he'd done earlier in the evening, to Islam, which I sensed was quite a long way from complimentary. But I wasn't expecting this. This being his uneasiness with what I was saying, a clear, to me anyway, display of a kind of insecurity, but also a barely disguised, but controlled anger welling up inside him, or, if not anger, an uneasiness, a tension that stopped me short, not long after I had begun to explain my own belief system.

He had said that Islam, and the Koran itself, decreed and positively encouraged a man to beat his wife. Now, although I already have a declared intention to do so, I have not yet read the Koran, so I could not argue factually with his claim. I would most certainly need to read how the words were concatenated in that book, to interpret them for myself. During the course of this conversation, I discerned that he is clearly a man with a good intellect, high intelligence, so, for the time being I need to respect his right to hold his views. I may not be doing myself any favours by confessing my ignorance in public, but this does confirm for me, if confirmation were needed, that, to a greater or lesser degree, we are all ignorant; we all lack a certain knowledge of the details of other people's lives. We cannot, nay, should not therefore judge other people, otherwise we, consciously or unconsciously, sow the seeds of our own judgement by others and, inevitably, conflict; otherwise we form a barrier; we partition ourselves; we wrap ourselves in that protective blanket, of which I previously spoke, we put on blinkers, so as to avoid confusing our perspective.

What this conversation confirms for me is the fact that, in our ignorance of others, we have choices. We can either open our minds and accept the vast variety of human life, concede that we are all unique and therefore different, which in turn impacts on our different perspectives on life, in a major way, or ... we can leave our minds closed and defensive. Being aware of this, makes me feel that we must at least try to improve our knowledge of those other ways of life, those alternative perspectives, otherwise we become guilty of a degree of bigoted behaviour. There is no excuse for being a bigot, we have a choice. We can make a decision to go out and learn more about the world, so too we can learn about other cultures; thereby we learn to understand them better. 

I know there is no need for me to be angry, or even unhappy about his response, or my own inclination to start arguing with him, because there are very few people on this earth, I would say, who, under stress, are mentally and emotionally secure enough not to resort to these self protecting responses from time to time. I think this is the ego, in the strict definition of the word, at work here, that unconscious mechanism of self preservation.

If only we could learn to accept our own and other's uniqueness, we wouldn't have to feel insecure, alone or vulnerable. By becoming fully conscious of this physical and psychological condition, we might, just might, be better placed to cope with our differences, to begin with a universal knowledge that there is and always will be a difference between us and our neighbours. But, perhaps more important, are the differences between us and our distant neighbours in other parts of the world, whose climate, whose whole culture and environmental influences seem to widen the cavernous gap between us. We cannot ever expect fully to understand them, because it could take a lifetime or even several lifetimes to achieve that, any more than we can expect them to understand us. We have to start with a different mindset.

I therefore make an observation that the outbreak of conflict isn't like a sudden flare, or a big unexpected step, or a sudden revelation. It is an insidious process, that starts at the very thin end of a wedge, a feathered edge, so thin that the conscious thought of it is often imperceptible. That feathered edge represents the first seed of a thought that can enter our head when we are confronted with something we don't fully understand. It is the beginning of a thought process that weighs heavier and heavier, as the wedge becomes thicker and thicker, until it turns from uneasiness into stress, agitation, anger and hate, which then turns into a vote for action, physical action, retaliation, sabres rattling and, before we know where we are, we're at war again; and the next war won't necessarily be in some distant desert, leaving us in the comfort of our own homes, watching the news on our TV's, shaking our heads at the terrible foreigners killing our boys ... it could be on our own doorsteps!

We have to start somewhere, to educate ourselves, our children, for the benefit of future generations, into a mindset that enables us to recognise and protect our own individuality, and that of every other human, every other living creature on this earth for that fact. Only then will we have a chance of accepting this individuality, this difference in others, of taking for granted what is for me the most fundamental of facts. We should never be afraid to stand up for that difference, stand up and be counted; and leave our vanity and our pride at the entrance to a new order of things.

Be a part of your community, your group, your business, the establishment as much as you are your family, but don't allow your own convictions, which form an essential part of your identity, to be smothered by the creed promoted by someone else's loud voice, by someone else's agenda. If you don't agree with all of it, respect it, but be prepared to question the things you don't understand, otherwise the establishment will become, at best, staid and stale, at worst, dictatorial. We cannot afford for that to happen, at least not if we want to preserve our identity, to maintain our own convictions and, above all, to live in a relatively free society - free, that is, from central, dictatorial control. The greatest courage comes from those who don't hold a sabre in their hand, rather the pen and the still calm voice of reconciliation. There is no need to be afraid of alternative points of view, of other ways of living. Be bold and you may yet have even greater fortune.

For each of us to develop an understanding of our individuality, our particular uniqueness as human beings, I have come to the conclusion that the key to greater tolerance between cultures and religions is an inseparable part of that understanding; it is that an acceptance of our own small personal differences - between us and our close neighbour for example - could be the lever that helps us translate into a natural acceptance of the difference between us and a very different foreign culture. Would there be enough good people, who are enlightened enough and bold enough to facilitate this? I wonder. Perhaps there are, already doing good work for humanity out there in the big wide, dangerous world.

I hope that I will have the opportunity to finish this conversation with my new found friend, because I, and I suspect he also, has need to find closure on an interrupted exchange of views. The reason we could not complete it was because someone interrupted me with a request to buy the anthology ("Petrichor Rising"), from which I had read some poems during the evening, and they even asked me to sign it. It was a rewarding way for me to conclude an evening of poetry, but perhaps not for my friend?


  1. John, this is an extraordinary piece ... written from the heart and the mind ... excellent. Tight and straight-forward. This is the essential source of our conflict. Ghandi said something to the effect that we should be responsive to all religions and that friendly study of all the scriptures is the sacred duty of every individual ... the Bible, the Koran, and other sacred texts. He was not really a practicising Hinud (and that is an umbrella term anyway). He took what was usful in his life and incorporated it into his life. Please feel free to post this on Bardo if you are comfortable with doing that.

    1. I've never had a piece of my writing described as extraordinary! Until you find me out, Jamie, I shall revel in this glorious feeling and I am putty in your hands :). I thought of posting it on Into The Bardo, but felt that, following the earlier very long piece ("Fortune ..."), it was a bit too long and heavy. I will rethink this, in light of your invitation.


Don't leave without letting me know what this article made you think, how it made you feel ... good or bad, I'll take either.