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I LEARNED HOW TO HAVE IT!
Founded in 1941 by the important educator Eli Siegel, Aesthetic Realism explains the debate going on in every person about how we're going to take care of ourselves. Mr. Siegel wrote:
Selfishness can be described as the belief that the first necessity of a person is to take care of his own being and to esteem that being. The question immediately arises: What is this being; what does it take in? Does it take in only what is above one's shoetops and below one's hair? Does it take in only what is between one's shoulder blades or outstretched legs? How large is the self, anyway?Aesthetic Realism shows that the self is in relation to nothing less than the whole world. Our greatest, deepest desire is to like the world through knowing it as it is, and seeing our relation to it. But there is also a feeling in every person he should care for nothing but himself. This is contempt, which Mr. Siegel described as "the lessening of what is different from oneself, as a means of self-increase as one sees it."
The thing that has revolutionized my life is learning about the fight in myself--which is in all people--between contempt and respect, and seeing that, far from being "self-increase," contempt was really the thing that caused me to feel so nervous, depressed, and ashamed.
Growing up in Yonkers, like everyone, I did hope to care for things. I was excited in school learning about the voyages of Magellan, Hudson and Balboa. I loved riding bikes with my friends, and cared for music, particularly the Beatles. But I also got pleasure from contempt--from feeling I was too good for other people and things. I saw myself as superior to the people in my family, while I also knew that by acting well-behaved I could get plenty of praise from them and others.
Even the things I honestly did care for, I tried to turn into vehicles for my own glory. In 5th Grade I went up to Mrs. Birnberg's desk with a drawing of the routes of the explorers that I had pretty easily traced from a book, saying I'd done it for "extra credit." Sniffing my purpose a mile away, she said, "Don't butter me up. Go back to your seat."
As time went on, activities that didn't seem likely to provide glory for me, I lost interest in. I wanted to see myself as a finished product, with special qualities everyone should appreciate. But I had no idea that this contempt was what caused me to feel so dull and bored, and so painfully incapable of caring things, for people, and for a particular person.
In college, I kept changing dormitories with every year, wanting to leave behind the people I'd known before. I did the same thing in later years--moving from one place to another. But I would worry, "What's wrong with me?" And by my mid-20s I would sit at home on Palisade Avenue, trying to think of something to do or someone to call. I would miserably feel nothing and no one suited me, but I would think over and over, "I hate myself."
In 1981 I began having Aesthetic Realism consultations. In a consultation, a person has the opportunity of speaking with three Aesthetic Realism consultants about his or her own life. They are given in person, and also by telephone. Through a give and take of questions and answers, you feel you are with people who honestly want to know you--your past, your feelings and thoughts--and who want your life to go better. Based on the solid principles of Aesthetic Realism, you learn to see yourself and the world more truly, and because of it, your life does go better. Aesthetic Realism consultations are taught with great humanity, critical encouragement and also deep humor, and are, I believe, a high point in the history of kindness.
In my first consultation, my consultants asked me the question first asked by Mr. Siegel, "What do you have most against yourself?" I answered, "I'm letting everything go by. I'm letting my whole life go by without making a move." They explained, "Aesthetic Realism sees the most important thing in a person's life as his attitude to the world. So, what do you think of the world?" I felt uncomfortable as I answered defensively, "I love the world." They said, "You know, a person might ask, 'If you loved the world so much, why would you let it all go by?'"
This made so much sense! And they asked, "Do you think a person can get a triumph from feeling, 'Nothing's good enough to grab me, to really matter to me'?" I felt, "Yes! That's what I do!" And I soon began to see, to my enormous relief, that I could change.
As my contempt was criticized, and my desire to like the world encouraged, so many objects that I took for granted, I saw with new eyes, and was affected and pleased by their color, shape, function, their very existence. I saw too that other people have just as much depth and complexity as I do and are a thousand times more interesting than I had any idea. I now care about people and what happens to them--the people in my family, people I know, and also people I don't know; here and in other countries. This is a feeling I was incapable of before, and I am so glad to have it!
And I have been learning what it means to love somebody. I treasure my marriage to Carol McCluer. We are both so lucky to be seeing that care for a person is inseparable from care for the world as a whole. Holding Carol in my arms, I feel proud and strong knowing she stands for a world I want to know and respect as fully and deeply as I can. I want so much for every man, woman and child to meet this grand, kind, and practical education.
Kevin Fennell was born and raised in Yonkers. He currently resides with his wife and daughter in Manhattan, where he is studying for the profession of Aesthetic Realism Consultant in classes taught by the Chairman of Education, Ellen Reiss.