Thursday, November 15, 2018

Aesthetic Realism and the Meaning of Good Will by Rosemary Plumstead

I have studied the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism since the early 1970's,  and I am grateful, both personally and professionally, for being able to study 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 a good effect on other people, and the pride I feel today. During my tenure as a teacher, 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, not only about the subject, but relating the subject to their everyday, often turbulent lives. 

As much as I had a big desire to be kind years ago, like many people, I also saw kindness as weak.  I thought I was more vulnerable to being hurt and used by people if I were "kind."  Aesthetic Realism sees good will--the real thing--as a oneness of opposites: toughness and tenderness, criticism and praise, affecting another person and being affected by that person.

As an educator for more than 30 years, this knowledge was invaluable to me. Every teacher wants to have a good effect on his or her students.  I certainly did. And yet, there were things working in me which I didn't understand--anger, disgust, 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 betray themselves daily and have no clue why. It is because we have another desire: to feel important through looking down on people; a desire to puff ourselves up falsely through contempt.  Mr. Siegel defined contempt as: "The addition to self through the lessening of something else." Contempt is the cause of most ordinary, everyday forms of injustice--such as a wife patronizing her husband and 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!"  And it was contempt of a massive kind that made for slavery, and the holocaust.  We see contempt manifested on the news as we hear about people being slaughtered in schools, in synagogues, malls and churches! 

When I attended an Aesthetic Realism seminar in 1973 and heard that a person's deepest desire was to like the world and be fair to it, I was thunderstruck.  At that moment I recalled having said to students in a health class, "Who'd want to bring kids into this world anyway?" It was the first time I really questioned my attitude to the world and the effect it might be having on my students.  THAT mattered to me!

That is clearly one of the big reasons I wanted to study Aesthetic Realism. 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 be fair to the world.  That self 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 Jane Eyre 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 struggled learning in high school, grew in me so much that I got re-certified 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 36 years to Reverend Wayne Plumstead, now a retired District Superintendent in the Methodist Church in New Jersey, 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--had great dimension because it included an entire congregation of people who have hopes, dreams, disappointments, and life questions of their own that we both wanted to try 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 made me feel so respected and cared for.  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.  Using the principles of Aesthetic Realism, they taught me a new way of seeing the world and myself that has held up all these many years and for which I am very grateful.  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 him in 1978. This was one of the proudest moments of my life. I now have the privilege of teaching what I have learned and use 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.  My education continues and my love and respect for Aesthetic Realism, Eli Siegel and the Chairman of Education 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."  In the commentary by 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 about good will as explained by Aesthetic Realism, both personally and impersonally, will have it loved as a living thing in all of us and seen more and more as the same as our true self expression.