Eli Siegel explains in the Aesthetic Realism essay The Call for Ethics: "The best thing ... in man's mind ... can be described shortly as a man's inability to like himself if he saw that he met someone or something and wasn't in some way good for that someone or something …. This desire for self-respect is a much more powerful thing than is thought." — Kevin Fennell  

THE URGENT QUESTION FOR MEN AND WOMEN:   HOW DO WE WANT TO AFFECT PEOPLE?

Part 2 includes a discussion of
Elvis Presley: music, lyrics, life

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    Part 1

    By Kevin Fennell

    Aesthetic Realism is great and new in showing there is a deep, inevitable desire in every person to have a good effect on people, to have people stronger. How much we want our lives to mean something good for other people is so much bigger than we have known, and this is the most hopeful news for every person. It is part of our deepest desire which I've learned is our desire to like the world. In his great lecture Mind and Friends, Eli Siegel said:  I have described the three possible situations a person may be in, in meeting even a stranger. Assume that John Rosen meets James Robinson. John Rosen talks to James Robinson for five minutes. John Rosen either leaves James Robinson exactly as he was; or through talking to him he can make him worse off than he was; or he can make him better off than he was. "I was introduced to him and I talked to him for five minutes. 1) I left him exactly as he was—I don't like that. I don't like talking to a guy for five minutes and not meaning a thing, even though it isn't bad. 2) I did him some harm; I really did him some bad things; I don't like that. 3) I did him a little good." John Rosen likes that; everybody would. Aesthetic Realism enables a person to see clearly how we have affected people, and also what effect we really want to have, and it makes for a beautiful change in that person's life. I am tremendously grateful that this is what occurred with me—changing the deep self-doubt I had, and enabling me increasingly to be honestly proud of how I see and affect other people. 

    How We Affect People Begins with How We See the World

    Growing up in Yonkers, New York, I loved the grandeur of the Hudson River with the magnificent Palisades on the other shore; riding bikes in summer and sleds in winter; watching the "Million Dollar Movie" feature of the week on TV with stars like James Cagney, Bette Davis, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. And some of my happiest memories are of singing in harmony with my sister Marion many of the early songs of The Beatles. As we heard our voices blend and contrast trying to be exact about the notes and the rhythm, our effect on each other was good. 

    Yet when I wasn't singing, I mainly had a very different purpose. I wanted to be the most important person in my sister's life, and enjoyed conversations with her in which I made fun of people, looked down on them, and encouraged the feeling that the world was unlikable and beneath us. Without knowing it I was going after the victory of contempt, and didn't think about what kind of effect this had on me, my sister, or anyone. 

    My parents were very busy—my mother with a house and four children, my father often with second jobs on top of his long hours as a fireman—and there was often tension between them. The lives of my oldest brother and sister seemed to be in frequent turmoil with school, friends, parents and each other. And I remember feeling very early that life was confusing and difficult. 

    The remedy I came to was to separate myself and feel superior, "too good" for all this. As the youngest, I cultivated a mild-mannered innocence. I got a lot of praise from my family for being well-behaved, good-looking, smart, a pleasure to be around. I used this to feel I had a special quality that made just my mere presence good for another person, without my having to do anything. Meanwhile, I came to be more and more dissatisfied, and saw the rest of the world—which didn't give me the automatic approval my family did—as harsh and unfriendly. This affected very much how I was with people. In his essay "Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation?," Mr. Siegel explains: "If you feel that the world is ill-managed, is contemptible, is unkind, you have to show that in how you see" other people. 

    I got less interested in things, and took to hanging around with Matty O'Brien on his back porch where we'd complain about having "nothing to do." With friends in college, I wanted to be seen as witty and keenly insightful as we mocked people and pointed out the "phoniness" we’d seen in "society." And I encouraged my friends to use drugs with me—mostly marijuana—ratifying in each other the feeling the world was unlikable and should be put aside. One friend, David, was often torn between his pre-med studies and social life on campus. I'm sorry that I never once encouraged him to study, but instead pressured him to party with us. Though I acted like I could laugh everything off, inwardly I agonized about my relationships with people. I would curse myself and cringe, going over and over things I'd said and done. I despised myself and had no idea why. 

    I Learned from Aesthetic Realism that the Effect I Had Was Not the One I Wanted 

    I am so lucky that in 1981 I met Aesthetic Realism and began to study in consultations. Because of the kindness and knowledge with which my consultants asked questions, I felt they got to the heart of things I'd felt all my life. When I spoke about feeling very separate from people, they asked: "Have you felt you should keep your distance from people while trying to have them very impressed with you?" I recognized this right away and answered, "Yes." They asked: "Are you proud of yourself for the way you've thought about people—the effect you've wanted to have—or are you ashamed?" I, who had wanted so much to convince people, including myself that I was a well-meaning nice guy, answered, "Ashamed." 

    I knew that beneath my smiling surface I really didn't care so much about the lives of the people close to me, and then I saw something very important: I had actually hoped another person would dislike the world, because in doing so they seemed to be making more of me. The great thing that happened is that in seeing this purpose consciously, I didn't want to have it anymore! Eli Siegel explains in his essay "The Call for Ethics": 

    [T]he central force in ethics, the best thing ... in man's mind ... can be described shortly as a man's inability to like himself if he saw that he met someone or something and wasn't in some way good for that someone or something …. This desire for self-respect is a much more powerful thing than is thought.
     
    I began to ask myself, with friends, co-workers, people in my family, people I met for the first time: Do I hope this person likes things more, sees more meaning in the world around him or her, is more composed?—and in asking it, I saw how much I wanted to answer, Yes! I felt for the first time I was really capable of being kind. Ten lifetimes would not be enough to thank Eli Siegel for the knowledge that loosened the tangled knot that was my life, and gave me a chance to be honestly proud of my effect on people. I cherish the life I have, which includes my happy marriage to Carol McCluer who is an actress, and the fact that we can study together in classes taught by Ellen Reiss; and that we are learning about how to have a good effect on the life of our six-year-old daughter, Sara.

    Click here for Part 2 -- A discussion of Elvis Presley and "The Good Effect on People That Is Art."

     



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