Are thorns happy?
Friday, December 1, Bounce showed Steven Seagal’s Above the Law.
He always plays opposite some eye candy, a term I learned from a Doonesbury strip about Uncle Duke’s presidential campaign. In Above the Law, it was Sharon Stone. In On Deadly Ground, it was Joan Chen, a Chinese actress cast as a Native American, with no real function but to look nice and follow him around.
“Eye candy” isn’t a mere phrase. I saw again that when I see a pretty woman, such as Stone in that scene, I get a sweet taste in my mouth. This is a physiological reaction, and potentially raises lots of questions about how we respond to beauty — or ugliness.
Related: For us.
I have much the same reaction whenever I see a rose.
Which recalls my interactions with that rose bush in the garden.
Why do roses have thorns? I asked one person, who gave the standard answer: “To keep critters from eating the sweet flowers.” I have suspected the branches are sweet, too. This did not satisfy me this morning — though an online search just now mentions areas with high populations of cattle, so I guess that could be an issue. But peaches, apples, cherries, pears and plums don’t have thorns. Raspberries do. So there might be a different reason.
On the one hand, I saw this afternoon that there may be a difference between roses and the other members of that family mentioned, in that the other members rely on animals eating their fruit to propagate, whereas with roses there’s greater danger that they’ll eat the flowers, in which case there’d be no fruit.
On the other hand, my thinking this morning was that it may have all happened by happenstance. By comparison, it must be by happenstance that vulgar Latin gave rise to Italian in Italy, but Spanish in Spain and French in France: there are no environmental factors forcing these differences.
By the same token, human races must have come about largely by happenstance. There are no natural selection factors to explain why Asians have golden skin and folded eyelids and northern Europeans have white skin.
Then comes the question of the thorn bush.
Thorns as people
This past summer, I used to spend an hour a day weeding the church garden — weeding, specifically, the morning glories. Now, the garden as a whole occupies about a half acre; a portion about 60 feet square is fenced in. I had focused all my time on the areas outside the fence. From my diary for Thursday, September 28:
So, two days ago, I noticed on a trip to the garden a rose bush inside the fence that had been overtaken by morning glories, and I resolved to free it from them the next day. When I went out there yesterday, I soon enough remembered this one as what I’ve called “less a rose bush than a thorn bush.” I relieved it of the morning glories, but my right hand was badly bloodied by unexpected contacts with thorns. I cursed the bush as being “ungrateful,” and could not help thinking that this is also how white people in this country feel about blacks: for all the expressions of goodwill they extend toward them, for all of their efforts to help, all they get back is thorns, pain and woundedness.
An expression of Michael Eric Dyson typifies why white folk feel that way:
I become impatient with convoluted expressions about race, and this expression is very convoluted. Two propositions one may adduce from Dyson’s words:
(1) Whatever the black man wants, he can only take from white folk; peaceably or not.
(2) It is inappropriate for the black man to ask politely or act grateful.
This is a prescription for injustice and poverty without end. And I wind up concluding that race has nothing to do with it.
Six years and more of homelessness have allowed me to see and live through things most mainstream folk cannot imagine.
While working on this post, I saw conclusively that there is a subculture of folk who never say “please” or “thank you.” I have no reason to believe it’s anything racial. Their own skin color doesn’t matter, and neither does that of anyone with whom they interact. In Dyson’s terms, they do not “ask politely” or ever “behave gratefully.”
In fact, they’re never grateful. They regard themselves as entitled to anything they may want from you. If you decline to give, they regard you as in the wrong. If you don’t have the thing to give, they regard you as in the wrong also, and may be resentful. I will tell about a personal experience of that shortly.
The posture may be called infantile.
I call such people “takers.”
Last night at the shelter, in the smoke pit, one man gave another man a cigarette. He made the mistake of doing this in the open. At once, three other men came up to him, each demanding that he give him a cigarette also.
We had a fellow, Luke, some time ago who was exceptional. I observed this exchange between him and Seth:
Luke: Give me a cigarette.
Seth: No. I already gave away four cigarettes today.
Luke: But you won’t give me one?
Note: the taker has no regard for your own needs. To him, they’re immaterial.
Related: Give from abundance
On one occasion — I write a lot with pen and paper. — my pen had run out of ink, and I had to get out a new one. I went into my bag, pulled out a two-pack of gel pens, and opened it. From twelve feet away, Luke saw this and said, “Can I have a pen? A blue Pilot G-2 would be nice.” He wanted my other pen. He had read the packaging from twelve feet away.
Those pens aren’t cheap, and I’m homeless.
Takers believe, as Dyson says, that whatever one wants, one can only take from others, peaceably or not.
Related: What the little birds told me
Tonight the shelter did not have a bunk for me. As I walked to the other place where I can stay, I decided to buy supper on the way, as at 16:30 it was already getting dark, and I did not want to come back out.
Places where there are many takers, are where many people live in fear; where people don’t want to be out after dark; the places you avoid. Where artificial lighting is installed in a futile effort to keep the spiritual darkness at bay, the spiritual darkness that may be palpable even at noon on a sunny day. For takers have dark auras; they emanate darkness.
They may or may not be resentful. Certainly a black man who believes that whites are in sole possession of “the world, all of it — all its resources, all its riches, all its bounty, all its grace” — will probably be prone to be resentful. But a primary difference between mainstream folk, or as I call them, “makers,” and takers — and a main reason makers find takers so hard even to imagine — is that makers take it for granted that one will use the resources at hand to create good things for oneself. Love for oneself is the defining difference between takers and makers. And the black man does have abundant resources: time, health, strength, emotions, desires, the life force itself. One creates grace, for example, by being gracious; for example, by saying “please” and “thank you.”
Then again, I’ve been ungrateful myself.
Mad at the world
For a time in my homelessness, I had a patron who gave me $60 a week every week. Then an occasion came when, given a sudden emergency, he could not give me the whole amount. This wasn’t easy for him to tell me. Rationally, cognitively, I spoke from my background with the Twelve Steps: I said, “You can only do what you can do. You’ve got to take care of #1. You’ve got to take care of yourself first.” Emotionally, however, I did resent it. I felt those feelings. I was deeply ashamed of myself for doing so; this went against my upbringing and everything I’ve trained myself to do as an adult. But it was so.
A thorn is an unhappy person, and stays unhappy by choice.
He or she doesn’t just feel resentment, but clings to it; clings to many resentments. Holds onto them. Spends time with them. Magnifies them. Feeds into them. Empowers them. Tortures herself or himself over them. Tortures others with his or her woe over them.
Tortures the person who would liberate him or her from the morning glories, from discrimination and poverty, joblessness and despair.
The black man certainly has many things available to resent; more, if he believes as Dyson appears to teach, that resentment is the correct posture for the black man. Know for certain, however, that the white person also has many things available to resent. The question is whether one holds onto them, or instead lets them go.
Political correctness tends to tell us that racial resentments on the part of black people fall into a special category, so that one can correctly hold onto them. This is mistaken. All resentment is the same; the emotion is the same; its destructiveness, its poison. There is no difference between one and another.
The self-loving person ultimately lets go of all resentments. All.
Forgiveness isn’t noble
Down through the ages, there has been tremendous confusion about forgiveness, as if it were some sort of virtue. A willingness to suffer. A matter of right and wrong, or good and evil. None of that is necessary; especially when dealing with infantile people who have no concept of, and see no need for a concept of, right and wrong. Instead, forgiveness is wholly a practical matter — concrete, material, pragmatic, mundane — of doing what’s best for oneself.
Every moment you spend stewing in your resentments is a moment you don’t spend advancing your own situation in life. Every atom of emotional energy you invest in unhappiness and grief is one you could have invested in happiness and joy.
The question is not about noble virtues; good and evil, right and wrong. The question is instead: will you, or will you not, get on with your life?
Why do roses have thorns?
Postscript, 12/17/17: As a homeless man, the takers around me sometimes absolutely annoy me. I have gone through months of able-bodied men urging me to get Social Security disability benefits like they do. A man will regale me at great length over a free meal he got, notwithstanding that the shelter itself feeds us very, very well. Anywhere, anytime food or clothes are being given away for free, men strongly urge me to go there and get whatever it is because it’s free. I get tired of this stuff. I don’t want anything I don’t need for free. I want a job; I want to pay for things with my own earned money.
I got robbed last night.
Given my financial status at the moment, this is not a welcome event.
All the cash I would keep with me at the shelter, I kept in my bag in an empty aspirin bottle. To look at it, no one would ever suppose there were cash in there. And given the state of my bag, for anyone to go in there and find it would take a small miracle.
Well, per the folk religion of the ‘hood, somebody “got blessed” last night.
To pay my $3 admission, I’d had to break a $20 bill. I put the change in my pocket until I’d sit down on my bunk. There, as usual, I went about arranging my things, and took out the aspirin bottle and put the $17 in there.
Someone saw me.
When I went into my bag to get it this afternoon, the jar was gone.
Thieves do not ask politely, nor are they grateful.
This is the posture Dyson counsels for black men.