Saturday, June 23, 2018

IN THE SHADE OF HISTORY Chapter Seven

We hide behind alibis, behind vague concepts of self-esteem, dignity, honour...to reject any kind of compromise. We would prefer living in the worst misery in the world to taking a very small step towards compromise and reconciliation. If that happens to states, to governments, leading them to bloody wars and loss of lives and wealth, how about a poor individual with psychological complexes? How about a poor individual who loves self-victimization and passionate complaining?

Is compromise always possible, though? Of course not. But we can know who loves us and who hates us, who wants peace and who wants war. We can know who we should defy and who we should befriend. We can know that, we can feel that, but our psychological complexes beautify to us defiance to and undervaluing people who show us some kind of interest, some kind of good will, some kind of ‘weakness’. We get the feeling that by only defying such people (such good, well-intentioned people) we can defeat them, we can push them to make all the concessions we want. We assume that we know all about those people we are defying, we can predict their moves, we can know how to react to whatever they do. Our psychological complexes blind us with mad illusions, and when we are disillusioned, when the truth is out, it’s too late... We break down, we lose everything. We lose the love we were after, we lose the peace we craved for, we lose a lot, a lot of our precious time. Regrets, remorse, disappointments. We are left with black holes in the heart, holes that won’t be closed with anything, anytime.

What is more fascinating than that is that black holes in the heart are to be found on the ‘victors’’ side too! You are sitting with others round a coffee table, sipping your coffee in silence and trying your best to quell a sigh. The people you’re sitting with (family or friends) are all chatting and laughing merrily, as though nothing ever happened. But you can’t help remembering those black days when you were poor, needing help all the time. Now you are alright: you don’t need anybody anymore. You have a good income, you’re married, you have a lovely son. You don’t have any real problems. But you have black holes in the heart. Black holes widened by black memories. You remember how you were let down by some of those you’re sitting with; you remember the humiliation you suffered at their hands; you remember how some of them provided you with some of the things you needed in that remote past (food or a few coins from time to time), you remember that they gave you all that grudgingly, you remember they too said hurting words to or about you… You remember all that and you feel your heart about to explode with so much hot sighs, but you’re striving to stifle all those sighs. You don’t want to hurt anybody. In the end, you rise from the coffee table and go somewhere else to forget all those dark memories… But you can’t. Why did they do that to me? Why didn’t they give me that little help that they gave me with a smile, not with frowns or a humiliating look or hurting words?.... Your questions will remain unanswered. You only have to laugh, if you can, each time those memories come back to you. At least, you are ‘the victor’: they are the losers. They were better off than you in the past, now you are much better off than all of them. Maybe they were laughing in front of you only to save their face. You don’t know what’s in their hearts. Maybe they were embarrassed, but didn’t want to show it. Maybe you too made some kind of mistake in the past, in the remote past, that left a black hole in your heart. Maybe you feel ashamed of yourself each time you recall that sin, that gaffe, that bad thing you did to somebody who didn’t harm you. Would you go to that person and say sorry? It’s not that easy. That’s not always safe. In America a man wrote to a woman saying sorry for raping her. He apologized to her for something he did many years before. She replied to his letters until he believed she forgave him. She did not forgive him. She only wanted to set a trap for him. She sent him to prison. You too fear such a bad surprise, but you wish you could apologize and make amends to that person you wronged. The mere fact that you sigh when you remember your sin, the mere fact that you feel embarrassed within yourself –that is a sign that you are a human, that you have a live heart, a healthy soul. So you could find something to blame yourself for when you remember the wrong done to you by family or friends in that remote past. Maybe those persons behaved in that bad manner because you would ask “too much” or “too often”. The Moroccan proverb goes: “katrat ateeni matkhalli had yabgheeni” (The more I say to people “give me” the more I make myself hateful to them.) Suppose your father- or brother-in-law said to you “give me” once a week, or once a month, what would be your reaction? You should consider yourself a hero for the mere fact that you didn’t break with everybody who wronged you in the past. What would you feel if you had no relatives (good or bad), no friends (good or bad), no colleagues, no neighbours, no acquaintances? You could give up all your close friends (and you should if they are tormenting you), you could give up one relative or two, one neighbour or two, but you can’t be a Robinson Crusoe in a city full of people with different aspirations and different disappointments. At least you will have to smile at and exchange a few words with the grocer, the hairdresser, the nurse, the taxi-driver or the postman, if you still have one. If you keep on complaining about everybody around you, can you live alone?

Life has always been full of disappointments and broken dreams. Even within a tiny community, a small hamlet of less than a hundred people in the heart of a forest or a desert, you would find somebody who is jealous of somebody else, somebody who hates somebody else… Each of the young lads in that community would dream to marry the most beautiful girl in the hamlet, but only one man will marry her, and that man may not be the one who loves her or the one whom she loves. You certainly know the story of Cain and Abel. Well, that story repeats itself in various forms. Up to this day, many people live with black holes in their hearts because they failed to marry that particular person  they loved so much or who loved them so much, because they failed to get that particular diploma or degree, because they failed to get that particular job (which could have revolutionized their lives), because their father/mother did not attend their wedding, because they found out (when it was too late) that their partner loved somebody  else and had never loved them, because they want a particular person (an old friend they no longer speak to, or an old neighbour, or a distant family member, or an old colleague…) –they want that particular person to recognize their success, but they’re not so sure.

These feelings that ache many of us date back to old school days or to previous family life. The way we were educated at school, with unending grading, examinations, year after year, would only make us feel jealous of our classmates when they got better marks, when they graduated before us, when they got better jobs… Competition was not only in school, it was –for many of us– at home as well.

Some parents tend to favour this son or this daughter, for one reason or another, and this can only create a sense of competition, a sense of jealousy, a sense of hatred. Injustice in the home, especially for materialistic reasons, does leave very, very black holes in the heart. But what to do? You can’t help turning a blind eye or a deaf ear to that gloomy past. You can’t help giving some kind of importance to those people who were unkind to you: even if you become very successful in your life, you will always wish that those people recognized your success. Even if your father/mother died a long time ago, you would wish he/she attended your wedding or saw your first child…

We, human beings, may be strong in many ways, physically and morally, but for how long? Strong people become old, healthy people become ill. We are sensitive to the heat, to the cold, to hunger, to thirst, to physical love… Our minds can help us manage our strengths and weaknesses, but there are things that our minds can’t fix. Our logic, however genius we are, can’t always help us understand other people’s behaviour towards us –because we assume that people (should) behave in a certain logical way. Well, that is not always the case. It’s not big thinking that drives people crazy, it’s very small, trivial things that defy all logic, all rational thinking. If your younger brother/sister is always robbing your underpants, and, on top of that, always denying that he/she is robbing your underpants, that may drive you mad literally! If your mother knows your salary and yet she’s always asking you to give her more and more, more than you earn, that may drive you mad. Because you are “thinking” with your mind only. In a previous chapter, I talked about a strong psyche. One should develop such a strong psyche as early as possible, because nobody knows what the future holds for us. If you have a strong psyche you may fly into a temper occasionally, but you wouldn’t go mad for the reasons I mentioned above. You would break, for a short or long period of time, with that person who is trying to turn your life into hell – and then you’ll deal with the problem ‘in cold blood’. You will ‘restore order’ in your feelings. Such a strong psyche would be a wonderful tool to ‘manage’ (as a manager would) our feelings, our black holes. If a black hole in our heart costs us an occasional sigh or two, that’s a good thing. The problem is when that black hole turns into an obsession.

As a child you dreamt to become an engineer (or a doctor). You did everything you possibly could at school, but failed to be an engineer (or a doctor). That left a very dark hole in your heart. Now that you are a parent you want your child to become what you failed to be. Now that your child is at school, the only thing you think about is his marks in scientific subjects, his progress throughout the school year, you count the years he still has to go before becoming an engineer (or a doctor). You don’t care about his feelings: the pressure you’re putting on him. You don’t care if he feels he’s only worth the marks (grades) he gets at school, no more than that. You don’t care if you turn him into a learning machine. Suppose he became an engineer (or a doctor), couldn’t he be faced, one day, with social or emotional problems? How would he cope with those problems? Suppose you want him to grow up and marry and beget children for you to see before you die, and then, one day, you discover that your boy, your successful son, is not straight. What would be your reaction? Suppose your son, who grew up deprived of your real love, fell in love with a star that he saw only on TV, and then his love, his impossible love, caused him incurable trauma or even pushed him to suicide. What would be your reaction? Yes, these are extreme examples, but they do happen. For some people a black hole may become an obsession and that obsession may lead to disaster. Would you show your child how to behave in society, how to be a good person, how to respect himself, how to improve his personal talents/capabilities? Would you show him the importance of universal virtues: courage, truthfulness, faithfulness, altruism, hard work, patience… ? Would you tell him about your dream without trying to impose it on him? If you feel he is interested, then help him go on that road. You know some children can’t live with their parents when they grow old. They put them away in infirmaries. Would it be OK for you if your dear, lovely sonny put you in an infirmary and went to live with a beautiful young woman engineer?

Once a Moroccan man called a Moroccan radio station to tell his story: “I was an immigrant in a European until I retired at age 60. While I worked there, I would send money to my wife to build for us a home here in Morocco. We got a daughter. I would come to see them during the Summer break. When I retired and decided to come back to Morocco for good, my wife and daughter closed the door in my face. They said to me: ‘Go away! We don’t know you!’ Now I’m just living with a distant relative. I have nowhere else to live. (He started weeping.) I don’t know what to do. I can’t understand why my wife broke with me in this way. I’m sure it’s her who turned my daughter against me… Can you please help me?”

Imagine the black hole left in that man’s heart. Imagine he didn’t have a strong psyche. Imagine he never, never imagined that this could happen to him. If you can imagine that, you can imagine the importance of our hearts.


Mohamed Ali LAGOUADER

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