“writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. we are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. it's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. you can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
- anne lamott

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Strangers Drowning

"They found that rescuers had been taught by their parents to care for others, whereas non rescuers had been taught to work hard or be obedient. Non rescuers felt impotent and helpless in the face of what was happening; rescuers felt that they had a degree of control over their lives and the situations they found themselves in, and they were willing to risk failure."
(study by Samuel and Pearl Oliner)

"She had found, to her surprise, that whereas addicts sometimes came from troubled families and sometimes did not, their partners typically did... As long as they were occupied with their turbulent men, these women could avoid confronting themselves... They had no conception of love without pain: love was pain, pain was exciting, and the greater the pain, the deeper the love... What these women needed to learn, Norwood conclude, was acceptance: to accept themselves and other people and reality as they were, without helping, without feeling responsible, without needing to change them."
(book by Robin Norwood, published 1985: Women Who Love too Much)

"In the archaic societies that Mauss studied, giving was always reciprocal: exchange was what bound society together. The point of giving was not generosity--the point was the merging of families and clans, some part of which remained in their belongings and circulated within them. Giving without expectation of return was not thought to be a higher, more selfless act; quite the contrary, it was aggressive, it set the giver up as superior to the recipient, causing the recipient to lose face; it imposed a burden of gratitude without permitting the relief of reciprocation."

"Ivan Illich, Austrian priest and social critic wrote: 'if you insist on working with the poor, if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell. It is incredibly unfair for you to impose yourselves on a village where you are so linguistically deaf and dumb that you don't even understand what you are doing, or what people think of you. And it is profoundly damaging to yourselves when you define something that you want to do as "good," a "sacrifice" and "help".... I am here to challenge you to recognize your inability, your powerlessness and your incapacity to do the "good" which you intended to do.'"
(from "To Hell with Good Intentions")

"After university he went to work for Oxfam, but at the end of his career he still felt that he and his colleagues did not morally measure up. Selfishly in love with their own ideas and sense of mission, they failed to really see the people they were trying to help: they perceived them as hungry or wounded bodies, innocent victims, not as striving humans with political and economic goals that might be either palatable or pernicious. 'In order to understand the person in need and his or her full social, economic, and political context, we need to obliterate our own self.'...the impulse to become an aid worker allaying the pain of war was not, then, so different from the impulse to become a soldier inflicting pain. For young people of a certain political temperment, aid work was what battle used to be--a field of glory."
The Selfish Altruist

"AA spread the idea that trying to help someone was the best way to help yourself. Bill Wilson quickly realized that the only way he was going to stay sober was to find other alcoholics to work on... So what was the difference between Lois's helping, and Bill's helping, which did?... The difference seems to be the difference between helping from above and helping someone like yourself--between telling someone what to do and telling someone what you've done."

"If there is a struggle between morality and life, life will win."

"'Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained. And being restrain'd it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire.'" -William Blake

"In 1906, the philosopher William James gave a speech titled 'The Moral Equivalent of War.' James had come to realized, he said, that pacifists like himself had been so caught up in deploring the gore and violence and waste of war that they failed to see that these arguments never even touched their opponents. 'The military party denies neither the bestiality nor the horror, nor the expense,' he said. 'It only says that war is worth them; that, taking human nature as a whole, its wars are its best protection against its weaker and more cowardly self."

"If war ever was to end, James felt, there must be something as honorable, and as difficult, to take its place. Such a thing was not unthinkable: why should it be only in wartime that people felt bound to risk their lives for something larger than themselves? James proposed a peacetime conscription to hard labor--'to coal and iron mines, to freight trains, to fishing fleets in December, to dishwashing, clotheswashing, and windowwashing, to road-building and tunnel-making, to foundries and stoke-holes'..."

"What do-gooders lack is not happiness but innocence. They lack that happy blindness that allows most people, most of the time, to shut their minds to what is unbearable. Do-gooders have forced themselves to know, and keep on knowing, that everything they do affects other people, and that sometimes (though not always) their joy is purchased with other people's joy."

"If everyone thought like a do-gooder, the world would not be our world any longer, and the new world that would take its place would be so utterly different as to be nearly unimaginable. People talk about changing the world, but that's not usually what they mean. They mean securing enough help so there is less avoidable suffering and people can get on with living decent lives."
Books mentioned in this book that sound interesting:
Radical Acceptance
Uncle Tom's Cabin
The Women's Room
Anna Karenina Tolstoy
Elizabeth Costello by JM Coetzee
The Plague Camus
A Burnt-out Case
A Change of Climate Hillary Mantel (sounds really tragic, maybe too tragic to read)

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