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On People (from 10/5/19)

“Life being too short to give instances great enough of true friendship or good will…”

–Richard Steele; An Hour or Two Sacred to Sorrow 

The evil and apathy within some corrupted people has on occasion compelled me to flirt with misanthropy; this disdainful view I held concerning human nature, like a snake, lingered, slowly crawling about, in its prime, throughout my childhood and adolescence but merely because I was convinced people tended to dislike me at first sight. Not that any experience of mine with people in those days (or anyone, ever) was remarkably traumatizing compared to the very real and severe tragedies others have suffered at the hands of certain sadists and violent haters throughout human history. Victims of the Holocaust, the genocide and torture perpetrated against the Native Americans, the Atlantic Slave Trade, et cetera…—that many of them have not succumbed to misanthropy or even general pessimism is sobering and instructive. 

In my very limited life observations, from the perspective of an American, white (though with Jewish background and agnostic-ish leanings), heterosexual male of more-or-less middleclass upbringing (with episodes of near homelessness, and other anxieties courtesy of an adulthood mostly treading the rough, stormy waves of poverty) from the mostly suburban leaning parts of central New Jersey (with a brief stint on the edge of inner-city Trenton where the muggers roam, one mugging me after he asked if I smoked crack), most people I’ve met (that is to say, a very wide and diverse range of socio-economic types of people and subcultures, et cetera), act, believe it or not, with a kind of basic compassion for others—being the sort who tend to sooner avoid confrontations (even with those who should be confronted for this or that belligerence) than try to initiate and then exacerbate them.

Granted, I think almost all of us fail to resist at least a jot of talking rubbish behind another person’s back (alas! Tsk-tsk! I’ve done it!) but I note that these cases appear more in the spirit of a gaffe in the process of venting than unshakeable hatred. Even when people take an extreme disliking to another they often seem determined to keep the peace anyway. The current unfolding drama regarding president Donald J. Trump is a perfect example. Most Americans, so far as I can tell, based on a combination of news reports, polls, conversation, et cetera, dislike President Trump. Even many of his fellow Republicans dislike him and merely use him for political advantage. Despite this, still, most Democrats in congress with passionate disdain towards him hesitated for years to try and hold him legally accountable for the various crimes and severe breeches of ethics committed before our very eyes.

I could not relate. For me, Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border and locking them up in cages like stray animals in a pound was the threshold at which I could no longer tolerate his belligerence, cruelty, and disregard for basic values of decency spelled out in our U.S. constitution. It reminds me of when our government imprisoned the Japanese Americans in interment camps. It should have been deemed unconstitutional on the grounds of cruel and unusual punishment and violating due process protections—many of those coming to the U.S-Mexican border came seeking asylum, not committing or planning to commit acts of theft, destruction, or violence.   

My point here is this: in the world these days, overall, if you overlook inevitable squabbles and feuds (we are so unique that disagreement is inevitable and resolution not always perfectly simple), even if we take into consideration the wars still lingering on (in contrast, at least, to most of human history) the plurality of people seem almost too nice, despite their bouts of slurring, thus, while I would not abandon my moral convictions or cease to make my pronouncements,  I see no case for a misanthropic attitude. Rather, I aspire to be a “people person,” gregarious!

The exotic psychologies, contributions, and complexities of people in general…especially our capacities for interests and passions– those forceful parts of our souls that compel us towards particular things and which thus comprise significant aspects of our personalities—these qualities fascinate me!

And when I think of how each is person is unique both in terms of her or his nature and his or her nurturing I get to thinking also of how there are more people (some 7.7 billion) than one can ever know, than one can ever maintain relationships with. This is one reason why I love art. Maybe we never get to meet the artist but yet we can get glimpses into their consciousnesses projecting pieces of themselves and sometimes rather intimately! In this context, would you blame me for feeling tempted to stare at other people in a hybrid of pure amazement and profound curiosity? Maybe this helps explain the rise of reality television and social media. Just like we might crave sunshine and fresh air do we not crave that whiff of people!?! Not that my relationships leave me bored and unsatisfied—I think I will never be quelled of my curiosity about strangers; people are just so damn interesting. What in life is better than connecting with other people– those who are currently alive as much as those who came before us and as much as posterity? Yeah, the universe alone and in general, taken in meditatively and in solitude can offer a nirvana-like feel (I live with mountains in view so you don’t have to tell me!), however…spending your life in solipsism, as a hermit, the only human in existence, de-facto or de-jure (so to speak)? I mean, if you had the choice! Naturally, if you never knew of another possibility that is its own loaded heap of thoughts and essays. 

This is even one reason I shifted so dramatically in my politics from a moderate Republican to a liberal Democrat: the Democrats, at least in theory, tend to believe we should invest our resources collectively in people—that each of us, if given the opportunity and a “slice of the pie,” can enrich our universal culture, whereas Republicans…it used to seem, simply believed in the power of tremendous independence (if there is a will to thrive then there is a way), now, in practice, the Republicans have proven themselves to believe in bigotry, autocracy, pathological lying, cheating in politics, Russian styled oligarchy, et cetera. Ah…gone are the days of the naively libertarian-ish Republican who simply believed people, if you left them alone, would do the right thing because they didn’t need the nanny state to tell them. Supposing it was mere hogwash… at least it was nicely idealistic and sweet to imagine. But the Trumpian Republicans do not even strive for Reaganesque charm or George W. Bush styled claims of good intentions (you know, to take on the “axis of evil” and “weapons of mass destruction.”). Trump goes right for the blatantly crude nihilism and sophistry, doubling down on his gamble that there’s enough political support out there to sustain that ironically right-on Marxist concern that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed…” ; so be the oppressor or the oppressed, “might makes right,” seems to be Trump’s style (though I doubt he thought it out so consciously since he gives no indication whatsoever of intellectual thought).

Moving on and away from Trump’s misanthropy…sometimes I am so fascinated with the mystique of strangers, or humanity at large or artists and intellectuals I find especially inspiring (my capacity for nearly obsessive hero worship started with Bruce Lee when I was roughly nine years old and is still going strong with my current love for Phillip Lopate, and Michel de Montaigne, Dinty W. Moore, Emily Fox Gordon, Leslie Jamison, et cetera, for example) that I forget about my deepest personal relationships. You may think this sounds rather corny but though I’m not rich in money I’m like a rich zillionaire when it comes to the fortunate connections I’ve enjoyed with people, several of whom I’m in debt to as I would not be so well off psychologically, spiritually, intellectually, or materially, had it not been for them.

The list is long so forgive me for all the names I’m yet to speak of but at the top of it all is my wife Ashley—“my dear wife” as Plutarch repetitively referred to his wife. Agnostic though I may ultimately be about questions regarding the existence of a God, there is no greater reason why I lean towards suspicion that one does exist than Ashley’s existence. She’s quite the miracle to me.

            “Something in the way she moves me

Attracts me like no other lover

Something in the way she woos me…

…Somewhere in her smile she knows

That I don’t need no other lover

Something in her style that shows me

I don’t want to leave her now…”

–George Harrison; Something

“He tells her how he dreads the coming day, which will keep them apart”

-Sei Shonagon; Hateful Things

Twelve years since our first kiss… it felt then as if I’d been knighted by a Queen… Queen Ashley; it still feels that way. Beyond the “feeling” and/or whatever chemistry aspect there is to it, it’s really quite an intellectual and spiritual matter, like our minds are connected. “Shelter in the storm,” Bob Dylan called it once. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” is how Shakespeare put it. I don’t recall ever having quoted Shakespeare before. So if you want a hint of what such a person can mean to another as she means to me, she got me crackin’ open my Shakespeare now, y’all…  

By Sean O'Connor

Hi, I'm Sean O'Connor, a poet and writer pursuing my MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at William Paterson University, where I also work as a learning generalist and where I received my BA in Liberal Studies.

Currently. I also work as a writing tutor at Raritan Valley Community College and Mercer County Community College.

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