Marion Fennell, Aesthetic Realism Associate


CARING FOR PEOPLE--
WISDOM OR FOOLISHNESS?

Most people, if asked the question: is it wise to care for people?--might pause before answering--because if you care for people, you might get hurt and be disappointed.  This is what I felt; and at the same time I longed to feel I could really care for a particular person or persons, and was pained because I wasn't sure I could.

Aesthetic Realism is necessary for understanding what it means to care for people, and why it is wise!  I learned that, through knowing other people, wanting to see them truly, we will know ourselves.  In a lecture of 1950, "Aesthetic Realism and People," Eli Siegel shows the dignity and large meaning every person has.  He says:

“The importance of people is that they are reality in the richest form....The more we like people, the more we will be proud of ourselves.”

And the logic of this Aesthetic Realism explains resplendently.  Our deepest desire, it shows, is to like the world on an honest basis -- and this includes the people who inhabit this world.  But this desire is in a fight with another desire -- to have contempt for reality and people.  In the lecture, Mr. Siegel explains:
“There is something in us that doesn't want to like people-- that doesn't want to like anything.  There is something in us that says: if we respect something, or like something, we have taken away from ourselves.  There is that in us which wants to like nothing but ourselves, and any time we consent to like something else we think we are giving up some of the love pie, the approval pie.”

Like young woman today, I had friends, and liked going to concerts, nightclubs, movies, and theaters.  But with all the conversations I had with girlfriends, I was not really interested in knowing deeply their thoughts and feelings, what they were worried about, or hoped for.  And often, these conversations centered on what we wanted to buy for ourselves, gossiping about other women, or on how the young men we knew were either Prince Charming, or selfish brutes, or little boys to be taken care of.  It wasn't until years later I learned from Aesthetic Realism why I often felt so terrible after these conversations--and my friends did, too:  it was the contempt in those talks that made us feel bad -- foggy-headed, ill-natured, and exhausted, needing a nap! 

Now I will tell more of what I am learning from Aesthetic Realism, and about aspects of the life of a woman, Constance Markievicz, who did care for people in a wide, important way in the struggle for Irish independence.

I Felt Caring for People Was Foolish

As I was growing up, I liked playing games with other children.  Sometimes I wanted to be useful to another child, but I was also pretty selfish and spoiled??secretly feeling I was better than other people.  And like many girls, I used the fact that the adults around me weren't so interested in what I felt inside, to put up a wall between myself and others??seeing it as smart to protect myself from getting hurt by them, and also getting pleasure hiding what I felt, and inwardly laughing at them.  This was contempt, and it came with a high price.

In his lecture Mr. Siegel explains what was working in me, and what I needed to know.  "The more we like people," he says -- 

“the more we'll be proud of ourselves.  No person has ever disliked people and been proud of it.  It isn't because people are people; it is because they are reality.  We cannot afford to despise reality.  If we do, we are giving ourselves poison.”

That was true of me, and it took its toll.  While still quite young, I remember watching the movie "Heidi" and being aware that there was something wrong with how I was so cool toward people.  When a mean relative tries to take Heidi away from her grandfather, I cried along with her, and wished I could show that much feeling for someone!

Aesthetic Realism explains the purpose we need: it is good will: "the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful." 

I spent my teens and 20's not knowing this, and my desire to have contempt accelerated--as did its hurtful results.  I had boyfriends, traveled on vacations, studied fashion--and only cared for people, not because of who they were, but because they made a lot of me.  Anyone looking at me would think I "had it all together," but more and more I put on a show: hiding the emptiness I felt inside behind a smile, drinking too much, and, inside, afraid of never being able to care truly for anyone.  Once, when the brother of a close girlfriend became ill with cancer and died, I remember feeling ashamed at how unmoved I was.  I never once asked my friend what she felt.

Then, near the end of 1981, I learned about Aesthetic Realism from my brother, Kevin.  I attended a Thursday evening seminar--and felt I had met at last what I was hoping for!  I began to study Aesthetic Realism in classes and consultations.  In one consultation, when I said I was afraid that thinking about a friend who was having difficulty in her life would make me sad and feel like sinking, I learned what the real reason was: I felt it would take time away from thinking about my favorite subject--myself.  And my consultants asked:

"If you look at people [deeply] do you think you will find not just sadness?...Are the elements in the drama of every person elements that will make you fuller and lighter if you think about them?  If you see them truly?"

I saw that this was true!  I learned that the world and people I had once tried to get away from and scorn are actually related to me--and that every person can tell me something I need to know about my very self.  And my education richly continues as I study to teach Aesthetic Realism in classes taught by Class Chairman Ellen Reiss. 

In a class I attended some years ago, I spoke about my feeling troubled that I wasn't enough interested in other people, including friends, and Miss Reiss asked, referring to three of my friends, "Do you think if you knew Joanne Belle you would know yourself better?"  I said that I wasn't sure.  And she asked: "Do you think that Marion Fennell is an unrelated entity, or made of the same elements that Bill Marcus is made of, that Barbara Jackson is made of?"  Miss Reiss then explained what only Aesthetic Realism teaches: that we are related to every other person through the opposites.  All people, I learned, are a relation of sureness and unsureness, hardness and softness, energy and thoughtfulness, hope and fear.  And if we don't want to see that relation, we have to feel our care for people is a donation.  But when we do see our kinship to people we feel, as Miss Reiss said, “Encouraging a person is the utmost in selfishness." 

What I have learned in these years has given me such a happy life, with a mind that is much keener and deeper, and a desire to know what people feel--people both close to me and far away. 

A Woman Shows the Wisdom 
of Caring for Many People 

I speak now about a woman whose life comments deeply on the question of our seminar.  She is Constance Gore-Booth Markievicz and her energy in behalf of justice to the Irish people is something I admire very much.  As an Irish American woman myself, this is a subject close to my heart.  Countess Markievicz as she came to be known, is remembered by the people of Ireland with love and respect because of her passionate belief that the Irish people have a right to own their land.  With great courage, and imagination she helped plan and took part in the attempt to free Ireland from the tyranny of Great Britain in April 1916--now referred to as the "Easter Rebellion," or simply "the Rising."  She was rightly proud of her role in it, saying it was what she was born for.

Aesthetic Realism teaches that the central thing in the lives of people--as individuals and as nations--is the matter of ethics.  Eli Siegel is the person who cared most for people--all people--with unequaled exactitude and kindness.  In 1970, he gave a series of lectures showing that the economic system that had gone on for centuries--the profit system--in which some people make money from the work of others, had failed; never to recover.  And he asked this crucial question: "What does a person deserve by being alive?"  That question is more conscious in the minds of people today through issues of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, and the many articles and letters that have been published in recent years.

The question of what people deserve was central in the centuries old bitterness and fury in the Irish people towards the ill will of the British government: its exploiting farmers for the profit of landlords, attempting to obliterate Irish culture and language, and doing almost nothing to relieve the starvation of millions of Irish men, women, and children during the Great Famine of the 1840s.

Constance Gore-Booth was born on February 4, 1868, in the midst of great controversy over land ownership and of Home Rule in Ireland.  Her biographer, Anne Marreco, relates in The Rebel Countess, that her ancestors first came to Ireland from England in 1598, as did many people who became the ruling aristocracy, by being rewarded for service to the Crown with grants of Irish land.  As a result of British government policies, most of the Irish people lived in abject poverty by the mid 1800's.

Growing up, Constance Gore-Booth liked painting and writing poetry, and loved the land of her home in Sligo on the rugged west coast of Ireland.  She cared for gardening, and learned to be proficient horsewomen, as well as an expert with firearms in the sport of shooting.  When returning from a family trip she wrote in her diary: "Oh, the joy of seeing the people, houses, trees and mountains of home again!" 
Constance Markievicz, Age 18
Constance Markievicz
Age 18
And young Constance also showed a care for people.  She would often return home without her shoes or a jacket, because she had given them to a poor person on the road.  As she grew older, she was very much in the midst of a privileged life: attending "Fancy Dress" balls at Dublin Castle, being presented at Court, and making her debut into society at age 18.  Her friend, Lady Fingall wrote of her:

"Con was then a wild, beautiful girl and all the young men wanted to dance with her.  She was lovely and gay in her youth at Lissadell and was the life and soul of any party."


But with all this luxury, Constance's care for what she called "the dispossessed people" of her own "desolate county" was growing.  She felt compelled to give money to homeless men on the street, and once brought a 30 lb. bag of peat moss--used as cheap fuel to keep warm--up five flights of stairs to an elderly couple.  Eamon de Valera, who was to become the first President of the Republic of Ireland, said of her: "Whoever misunderstood Madame, the poor did not." 

I respect Constance Gore-Booth very much because she could have easily been selfish, or afraid she would sink under people's sadness, as I was.  But she wanted to know what people felt, and what they deserved--which is the first thing in having good will.  Mr. Siegel said in his lecture:

The word sympathy has somewhat degenerated.  It means, most often, pity; but the real meaning is feeling with.  It means the ability to feel what another person feels, to see that person from within.  That happens to be one of the most necessary abilities a person could have. And it should be taught.

Constance wanted her life to include expression wider than the confines her social circle offered.  She studied art seriously, first through private lessons with the Swedish portrait painter, Anna Nordgren, and later studied in London and in Paris.  While in Paris she fell in love with Count Casimir Markiewicz, a fellow art student.  She wrote to her sister:
 

He fills me with a desire to do things.  I feel with the combination I may get something done, too.

They were married in 1900 when Constance was 30, and the next year she gave birth to a daughter, Maeve.  Not so much is written about their marriage in the biography I read, but it seems that, in the beginning, her husband essentially encouraged her work in behalf of a free Ireland. Meanwhile, they needed to know what Eli Siegel describes in his lecture: "The purpose of loving one person is to love people and things in general."

I’ve been learning how to have this purpose with my husband, Jeffrey Williams, who is a NYC school teacher and student of Aesthetic Realism.  His large desire to have a good effect on people, including for his students and for me is something I love very much--even as I know he wants to do better and better.  I think that caring for Jeffrey is wise because as I try to know him, I’m having one of the deepest experiences of my life:  I am less selfish, and my knowledge of other people is larger and deeper.  And as we learn to use each other to care "for people and things in general," I not only like myself more, but our feeling for each other is increasingly deep and exhilarating!  Yes, I've made mistakes--including wanting him to care for me almost exclusively, and make a separate love-nest away from the world  But I have been in the right place to hear criticism of my contempt, including from Jeffrey, and change!  Our care for each other has grown in these nine years, instead of fading, as was so often with me in the past.

We Need To Put Together Our Care For People 
Close to Us,  and Those Far Away

Constance Markievicz had this problem had by women throughout history and today.  For the first eight years of their marriage, she and her husband lived in “high society”, working on their paintings, and she sometimes acted in plays which he wrote.  As she became more intensely concerned in the cause of Irish freedom, Casimir encouraged her, and in 1909 he produced the important play, “Strife,” by James Galsworthy about a strike in a tin plate factory.  But as she gave more of her life to this work, it seems her husband had some objections, and they felt it best to live apart.  Meanwhile, they remained somewhat friendly to the end of her life.  And about Constance’s care for their daughter, her fellow-revolutionary and friend of many years Maud Gonne said, 
“Constance loved children and it was a great sacrifice when she sent Maeve to be brought up by her mother....Only people who knew her very closely and intimately knew how deeply she felt, for...she was very reserved about her personal feelings and kept things hidden in her heart.”

This choice must have been difficult, and she must have questioned herself deeply as to what was right.  Meanwhile she is admirable in her desire to put together her love for her own child, and care for other children. Ms. Marreco writes, “No doubt through her knowledge of the hopeless misery of many Irish children’s lives, Constance acquired a different sense of proportion from that of the average mother.”  I believe that `different sense of proportion' had to do with a wide care for other people and the earth they lived on, as she later said: 
It was the struggle for land that first interested me, while the heroic spirits that generation after generation went out to carry on the fight, and fought and died with arms in their hands, took my heart and imagination by storm.

She and her husband eventually moved to Dublin where she educated herself on the history of Irish suffering and the rebellions over the previous centuries.  She became friends and co-workers with important Irish literary persons such as the poet William Butler Yeats, the poet and philosopher George Russell, Maud Gonne, and Arthur Griffith--founder of the political party Sinn Fein, which means "We Ourselves" in Gaelic, and who made the famous statement: "Let England take her right hand from Ireland's throat and her left hand from Ireland's pocket."

In 1913, Constance began working with James Connolly, the great Irish patriot and labor leader, who my colleague and brother, Kevin Fennell, wrote importantly of in a seminar given here.  When England declared war on Germany, and planned to draft Irishmen into the military, the serious work on an independence movement began, with Connolly as one of its key leaders.  He considered Constance to be like his right hand, and she was the only woman among a dozen or so men who formed the nucleus of the insurrection.

In the days before Easter of 1916, their bold, careful strategy was shaken by differences between the leaders, and the loss of a crucial arms shipment, but it was decided to go ahead with their plans.  In all, only around 780 men and women began the surprise siege of Dublin, and courageously held strategic buildings and bridges for six days.  But the greater numbers and armaments of the British Army finally prevailed, and the Irish surrendered.  The leaders of the Rebellion were sentenced to death and executed within days, while Constance's sentence was commuted to life in prison because she was a woman.  After learning of the tragic outcome, Constance wept and asked, "Why won't they let me die with my friends?!"  Later she said, "Well, Ireland was free for a week."

But the effect of the rising had so great and far reaching effect that it encouraged the Irish people to demand the release of many persons then confined as prisoners of war.  Constance was released after enduring 10 months in a cold, damp, unsanitary prison, and soon set about giving speeches around the countryside.  And in 1918 she was the first woman elected to the British Parliament, but refused, like others, to take her seat as a protest.  She was imprisoned several times again over the next years for her activities, which she never stopped.  Constance lived only 11 years after the Rising.

In 1922, the first major victory towards Ireland's freedom came as England changed its status to one of a dominion, with complete freedom being won in 1948.  Today, in the heart of Dublin, in St. Stephen's Green, there are three statues of Irish patriots: James Mangan, Thomas Kettle, and Constance Markievicz. 

In 1998, an important peace accord was reached in Northern Ireland, and the majority of Irish people felt it was wise to endorse it in a public referendum.  At the time the accord was signed, Ellen Reiss wrote in her commentary to issue #1308 of The Right of
“Good will is the most attractive thing in the world, and the most necessary.  Good will, Mr. Siegel said, is the height of education.  Yet good will is something that can begin immediately.  And an Aesthetic Realism assignment embodying that beginning is for a person to write about someone he sees as against him: a 500-word soliloquy of that opposed person, in which you get within the person’s feelings and express, as if you were that person, his or her hopes, thoughts, fears.  For Northern Ireland to have peace, this soliloquy should be written by every Irish Protestant about a Catholic, and by every Irish Catholic about an Irish Protestant.”

This is an assignment for all people who may be in conflict with others.  And when Aesthetic Realism is studied everywhere, every person can at last be sure that caring for people is wise! 
 



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