Thursday, December 28, 2006

Aesthetic Realism and the Meaning of Good Will by Rosemary Plumstead

In the more than 30 years that I have studied the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism, I am grateful, both personally and professionally, for learning the meaning of good will. Eli Siegel defined good will as: "...the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful." (TRO 121)

Having the ability to ask myself at any given moment, as a wife, a friend, a daughter, and very much as a teacher: "Am I having good will for this person?" or, "What would good will be in this situation?" has made the difference in my life between a pervasive shame I felt years ago because I did not always have the good effect on people I hoped to have, and the pride I feel today. I was able to think consciously about what good will was for my students as I prepared a science lesson and thought about questions I would ask them, questions that had them feel deeply comprehended, more composed. They were very grateful for this.

As much as I had a big desire to be kind years ago, I also saw kindness as weak; it left me, I thought, vulnerable to being hurt and used by people. Aesthetic Realism sees good will, the real thing, as a oneness of opposites--toughness and tenderness, criticism and praise, assertion and yielding.

As an educator for more than 30 years, this knowledge was invaluable to me. Every teacher, whether he or she articulates it or not, wants to have a good effect on his or her students. As I said, I certainly did. Many years ago it was through teaching that I felt most expressed and most approached having the kind of good effect that I wanted to have. And yet, there were things working in me which I didn't understand--anger, suspicion of people, a false notion of strength--that stopped me from being the person and teacher I hoped to be.

I learned from Aesthetic Realism that there are two desires working in us all the time. Our deepest, most fundamental desire is to like the world, have honest respect for it and for people as a means of thinking well of ourselves. When we are untrue to this first desire, we rightly dislike ourselves. People feel they betray themselves daily and have no clue why. It is because there is in us as well, a desire to feel important, to puff ourselves up falsely through contempt, which Mr. Siegel defined as: "The disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world." Contempt is the cause of all injustice, small and large; it made for slavery, the holocaust and every day, ordinary injustice--such as a wife thinking to herself about her husband, "I know him," or a teacher saying to another teacher in the lunch room, "These kids are barbarians, they'll never learn!"

When I attended an Aesthetic Realism seminar in 1973 and first heard that a person's deepest desire was to like the world and be fair to it, I was thunderstruck because I had recalled saying to students in a health class, "Who'd want to bring kids into this world anyway?" "My God," I thought, "am I having a bad effect on my students?" I realized I had ways of seeing the world and people that interfered not only with my own self respect and happiness, but that my attitude to the world could possibly be showing itself in the classroom, where most consciously I wanted to be kind, useful and make students stronger.

That is clearly one of the big reasons I chose to look into Aesthetic Realism, which was not known at all at that time. I began having Aesthetic Realism consultations where I heard questions about how I saw the whole world: my parents, friends, my students, men and women, love, reading books, and so much more. I heard kind, critical questions of my contempt for things and people and what was brought out of me was my true self--a self whose deepest desire was to know and like the world; one that had been struggling in the dark looking for light. I came to care for art, music and poetry. I came to care for books more. I read Jane Eyre and learned about how a woman could be kind and strong in having good will for a man as she did for Rochester. I read Henry James' "Portrait of a Lady," where I saw that a man could see the mind of a woman with great respect, and want to be fair to her depths. I started seeing my father Dominick, with whom I had been furious, as a person to be known, understood, and used as a beginning point for liking the world, not fighting with it. I saw people with more respect and a desire to know and understand them. This certainly included my students. My teaching took on new life and purpose and I came to love even more the subjects of health and physical education, which I was teaching at the time. A love for science, which I hated in high school, grew in me so much that I became recertified to teach it after 20 years in the classroom.

I began to feel that real love could exist between a man and woman where both were made stronger. This is what I have felt in my marriage of 24 years to Reverend Wayne Plumstead, Pastor of Park United Methodist Church in Bloomfield, NJ and an Aesthetic Realism Consultant. I have a chance close up, day to day, to want to know the depths of a man and hope to have good will for him. For us, what Mr. Siegel called the "third partner" in every relation between two people--the world--takes on wide dimension because it includes an entire congregation of people who have hopes, dreams, disappointments, and life questions of their own that we both want to be fair to.

I had consultations once a week for 18 months. I drove into the city from the Bronx in rain, snow, sleet and hail to hear the deep, critical questions that penetrated me to my bone marrow. I felt for the first time in my life that three Aesthetic Realism Consultants--people who were then complete strangers to me--wanted to know what I felt to myself. They so much wanted me to be stronger that they were going to tell me the truth, not schmooze me. That is the magnificent good will I later experienced as I entered classes with Eli Siegel in 1975 to study to teach Aesthetic Realism. With a keenness and depth, sweetness and intensity, as well as critical good humor I was met by Mr. Siegel to my core. I was being known. I was named an Aesthetic Realism Consultant by Eli Siegel in 1978. This was one of the proudest moments of my life. I now have the privilege of teaching what I have learned and using my life, including my mistakes, to have the lives of other women and teachers stronger. What a gift!

I've used my best, most discerning mind on Aesthetic Realism, including the questions I heard in consultations and in classes with Mr. Siegel. At a time when Mr. Siegel thought I was answering questions too swiftly and without sufficient thought, he said to me, "I like very much seeing ladies, not yes ladies." He wanted me to be a critic of what I was hearing and really SEE! Good will," Mr. Siegel has said, "is the culmination of education." My education continues and my love and respect for Aesthetic Realism, Eli Siegel and the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, Ellen Reiss, with whom I now study in classes for consultants and associates, is rightly without limit.

I would now like to quote some passages from Issue #900 of the international journal The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, originally published in July, 1990 titled "The Might of Good Will." Had the press reported on Aesthetic Realism, this knowledge could have changed people's lives way back then. In the introductory comments by Class Chairman Ellen Reiss, she teaches the dear unknown friends she addresses about the Aesthetic Realism understanding of good will. She writes in the section: How Powerful is Ethics:

"Good will is the central thing in ethics. So far in history, ethics has been seen as weak, incapable of defeating evil. But the reason ethics has seemed ineffectual is that people haven't seen what it really is. Eli Siegel, in Aesthetic Realism, has made ethics real. He has shown that good will and ethics are as real as a sidewalk, and are not only powerful, but the greatest power in the world. "
And she continued in a section called "The Elevator Test"

"In his teaching of Aesthetic Realism, Eli Siegel described what he called the Elevator Test. It is evidence for the fact that when a choice between good will and ill will is made clear, really clear to people, they will always choose good will. The Elevator Test goes this way: You are in an elevator with a person you don't know, and you go up several floors together. You may never see the person again. Do you hope that you have had a good effect on him, a bad effect, or no effect whatsoever?

Every person answering honestly will say, A good effect. Eli Siegel showed that no one can stand the idea--if he really sees it--that he has left another person worse off; and the idea that we have no meaning at all for someone cannot please us. We can go on hurting a person only if we pretend to ourselves about it, make the hurt unreal, and see the person as not fully a person. The Elevator Test and the questions arising from it--How do you feel if you see you have left a person worse off?; How do you feel if a good effect has not come to a person through knowing you?--should be discussed in public forums, on television, in schools, with the discussion conducted by Aesthetic Realism consultants. Such discussion in America would make ethics real. It would change people inside. It would make for kindness as a person saw someone of a different race on a street or campus.

And she concludes: Good will is the oneness of care for ourselves and care for the world. It is the most critical, beautiful thing in man. "

It is my hope through what I have written, intensely personal and also impersonal, that good will as explained by Aesthetic Realism, be loved as a living thing in all of us and seen more and more as our true self expression.