Suffering Fools Gladly
I've been observing an interesting phenomenon in myself in the last few months as I set myself to writing book reviews for Joyread. I discovered that some of these reviews were easier than others to write and some were like trying to get my cat, Gremlin, to fetch. Most distressing was that this was taking much of the joy out of the project for me and threatening to take the joy out of the reading itself. As I probed for the root of the problem, I came to realize that the books which were the worst offenders were the ones some part of me was afraid might offend some imaginary segment of my audience. But that wasn't quite the true root of it. Because there were some books that I knew for sure a certain, all too real, segment of my potential audience would be offended by. And I reveled in flaunting them in outright defiance. Those were the easiest of all to write. So I had to probe deeper until I realized that the books I balked at reviewing were the ones some part of me was embarrassed to admit having read, and not only reading but enjoying, and not only enjoying but assenting to if only in part. Shame! I chided myself. And you claim authorship of the Joyreader's Manifesto?
Then I had to ask myself if I was in the process of exchanging one censorious community for another. After the difficult and painful struggle to free my mind from the strictures imposed on it by authority during the first thirty-four years of my life, was I now, after six short years, volunteering to lay my head on the block, to bow to the dictates of another authority? To that I can answer a resounding NO! For when I examined that place within me where the motivation to break with authority imposed from without resides, I found it vital and my resolve still strong. I had, at the moment I declared my independence of thought, fully intended to generalize my independence across the board as far as any human or human-created agency was concerned. I would never again submit my mind to another human's control.
Even then I realized how vulnerable I was. All the factors that encouraged submission in the first place were still active since they are integral to being human: need for security, community, approval. Anticipating this I had created highly sensitive and prickly defenses against any perceived attempt to influence me by authority. One of the tools of authority is the threat of excommunication. Any expression of disapproval implies this threat. But it works only if you have invested your sense of Self in the group identity. But my Self does not reside in what anyone thinks about me, let alone what they think about what I am thinking about.
My sense of that was still strong so how did this embarrassing embarrassment about my reading selections sneak up on me? A deeper probing excavated the connection. I perceived the likelihood of scorn coming from a certain segment of my potential audience which had the distinction of being one of the communities of thinkers from which I anticipated approval and support for my declaration of independence from the authorities of my youth. Since I seldom find myself in the physical company of any member of this community, the expectation of approval was gleaned from reading their works, from which I had also gathered their tendency to intolerance. Here they had a high correlation of similarity to my previous community. Though they might define the term differently, they would suffer fools no more gladly. Well, like Erasamus, I will wear the mantle of Fool with aplomb. I will stitch the red 'F' on my forehead, before I will hand my head to any community or individual with a policy of intolerance. I would rather be a fool by my own definition than to give up my freedom.
When I set out, six years ago, to learn how to think for myself, one of the consolations that helped assuage the loss of security, community and approval, was the sense of wonder I experienced upon encountering each new concept. Wonder cannot co-exist with scorn. Over my entire reading life there have often been books sitting cheek by jowl on my desks, bedside tables and shelves whose authors could not have stood being in the same room together in the flesh. That in itself is one of the wonders. Reading authors that disagreed with each other taught me how to dispute authors--and thus authority. I refuse to scorn a subject or a class of ideas just because they are scorned by others, so the content of my reading list has something in it to offend just about anybody who takes a close look at it. So be it. I am a Joyreader!
(In case you are wondering which books I was momentarily embarrassed by--keep wondering. Plug in your preference if you must. Or explore these pages and make an educated guess. But if I told you I am afraid you would be so busy approving or disapproving you would miss the whole point.)
© 1998 & 2004 by Joy Renee Davis