Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Indirect Approach to Happiness, Truth, God and All

Am reading a wonderful book, Parker Palmer's The Promise of Paradox. Written thirty years ago but is quite up to date in assessing our culture.

But personal well-being is one of those strange things that eludes those who aim directly at it and comes to those who aim elsewhere. It was best said in the words of Jesus: "He who seeks his life will lose it, and he who loses his life . . . will find it" (Matthew 10:39).

from Parker J. Palmer The Promise of Paradox: A Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Life - 3rd edition, Ch4 A Place Called Community page 72, published by Jossey-Bass.

It just so happens that I recall several other posts I've made along these lines.

from June 4, 2008

Genuine Truth in Temporal Existence - K. Jaspers

from a Karl Jasper's lecture in 1935, in the middle of his discussion of Nietsche and Kierkegaard:

Masks: With this basic idea is connected the fact that both, the most open and candid of thinkers, had a misleading aptitude for concealment and masks. For them masks neccessarily belong to the truth. Indirect communication becomes for them the sole way of communicating genuine truth, indirect communication, as expression, is appropriate to the ambiguity of genuine truth in temporal existence, in which process it must be grasped through sources in every Existenz.

From "Reality, Man and Existence: Essential Works of Existentialism" ed by H. J. Blackham. Bantam Books. (I bought this book in 1974 and forgot about it until recently uncovering it while going through my things).

Monday, February 27, 2006

Kierkegaard Quote

from Soren Kierkegaard*

"First and foremost, no impatience . . . A direct attack only strengthens a person in his illusion, and at the same time embitters him. There is nothing that requires such gentle handling as an illusion, if one wishes to dispel it. If anything prompts the prospective captive to set his will in opposition, all is lost. . . [The indirect method. . . . loving and serving the truth, arranges everything. . . . and then shyly withdraws (for love is always shy), so as not to witness the admission which he makes to himself alone before God - that he has lived hitherto in an illusion."

I have been all these people: attacker, attacked, and the one under an illusion. Wish that years ago I had read this and taken to heart.

*from p. 93 of Mapping Postmodernism by Robert C. Greer, 2003 Intervarsity Press. His footnote is the following: Soren Kierkegaard, The Point of View of My Work as an Author, in The Modern Tradition: Backgrounds of Modern Literature, ed. Richard Ellmann and Charles Feidelson Jr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 751; cited in Taylor, Myth of Certainty, pp. 25-26


S.P. Lunger said...

I love Kierkegaard, and I love the quote. But I'm not sure I'm buying in this case.

I think the problem with shattering illusions is usually too much gentleness and cleverness. I cannot think of many times when I came out of my illusions via subtly.

I got out of the Adventist cult only after being repeatedly hammered by a friend who was already out. Of course, one might argue that I was already post-illusion and just needing empowerment at this point in time.

I'll admit that when I'm working with people in therapy, I prefer to go slowly and direct the process as little as possible. But again, in most cases, the direct but well-timed interpretation is the one most likely to appear effective.

Anyway, thanks for posting this quotation.

S.P. Lunger said...

*correction: via "subtlety."

Steve said...

I defer to you because you work with people who acknowledge by their presence in front of you that something about them could be changed. It must take a great deal of wisdom to know when and how to pound away and when not. Here in the South, the direct approach meets stubbornness and produces spitefulness which increases no matter how well put the direct rational argument. This seems to be true largely in regard to political and religious matters. It is an attack on one's identity or perceived that way.

I admire you for having traversed the boundary from the group that grew and nurtured you to where you are now. I'm sure it was not easy. With commitments to friends and family and your employment within that environment. Breaking out of the known and comfortable to a new world.

I should look within to examine when and how I've changed my mind in the past or when I've held on to something way too long. Will give it thought, knowing there are some resentments within to deal with and acknowledging it has not been a vertical march from blindness to the clear light of reason.

S.P. Lunger said...

I regret that I seem to have "pulled rank" on you with my story. That was not my intention and I hope is not the lasting effect of my comments.

With regard to your observations about the South, I might note that culturally (not making an absolute statement here) the South is the region of the United States most familiar with having illusions shattered. The North, having shattered the illusions of motherland via the Revolution was already in the practice of such things by the time it also broke through to the South. Walk the streets of Boston, New York or Philadelphia and you'll see the ethic continues to live. Direct, and so painfully confrontational to the point that I recoil at the forceful style. The South, however, has a much more indirect approach and as you say responds with stubbornness and spitefulness to direct confrontation - sounds defensive. And defensiveness is the evidence of how easily that raw nerve can be tweaked. So it makes sense to put forward that the South's aversion to direct approach might actually be an argument for it's resistance to having illusions shattered rather than evidence that such an approach would not work. Are there examples of such direct approaches working?

Agreeing that there's no fool proof way of forcing one to see what they will not, I might point to MLK in the South as an example of one who furthered the shattering of illusions. On a grander scale, I think of the OT prophets and Jesus Christ who continued in a tradition of dramatic and radical approach. Even the Eastern "sages" are often remembered even in their passive teaching styles to employ interventions that are often jarring and memorable in part for the irony of packaging their lessons in such apparently passive styles. I'm trying to remember the subtle and gentle teachers - likely because they are not memorable for their lessons nor for their style. The neurotic prophet on the other hand - no there's a lasting archetype.

Kierkegaard himself was hardly "gentle" if by gentle we mean indirect and unlikely to confront. While often hiding his aggression behind a pen-name, he made waves and made them often. I wonder if he was invoking something more akin to the original intent of "gentle" in terms of "high-born" or "noble." I also wonder if he was engaging in one of his ironic voices when he penned this quote. Perhaps playing a somewhat mischievous joke as was also in character for him.

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