Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What Do We Tell Our Children?

A friend of mine and reader of this blog, in an email, mused about how she wondered how I came up with the subjects that appear in my blog. Not always, but occasionally I suspect she thinks they're coming from a side of the playing field of life that probably only makes sense if you know exactly what's going on in the head of Till—and, let's face it, even Till has problems figuring that one out.

Well, the current subject isn't of the where-the-hell-did-that-come-from kind. It was prompted by an article in a newsletter and a subsequent email, penned by a martial artist I know. The person in question pondered issues associated with the use of violence in our society and the position, I guess, of the 'martial artist' in the scheme of things having to do with the 'martial'; which, let's face it, is all about fighting—on any scale you care to consider.

I think what the writer was coming to realize, after many years of practicing martial arts without the benefit of having a family of his own—which is a benefit whose value and importance cannot possibly be overestimated!—was coming to a point in his life, where the mere 'practice' of the 'art' had begun to show its flaws; as it does to the fortunate ones. And I say 'fortunate ones', because it is 'fortune' indeed blessing one if one gets to this point. The martial arts, practiced as something which is assumed to justify itself by its own virtues by most—maybe more than just 'most' and maybe more a vast majority, including senseis—are just as empty and devoid of meaning as any human activity that does not make reference and connect and ground to the larger context of 'life'; of which they are but a pale simplification. They are, as Randy Pausch might have put it, 'head fakes'. Kansas City Shuffles. The realization that this is so, must surely be among the greatest gifts that fate or destiny or just contingency, in the shape of fortuitous confluences of events that lead one to suddenly 'see', can bestow on a martial artist. For that matter on anybody, who suddenly steps outside the box and sees it for what it is and gets to say Aha!

I suspect that for the martial artist in question these things have been creeping up slowly, until they finally became so visible and prominent that they simply could not be ignored anymore. Still, I suspect, from what he's written, that he is still groping around in a darkness that is only being slowly illuminated by the light of understanding.

The problem with this understanding often tends to be though that, like reformed smokers, those who achieve it tend to go overboard with messianic fervor in opposite directions; forgetting that 'living a good life' is not about 'fixing the world', as utopians tend to believe, but about stuff that's much more basic—for from those basics flows everything else. And these things basically haven't changed for many thousands of years, and maybe more, and they won't for another uncounted years to come.

It's like my old gripe about the value of ever-more-complicated or arcane or style-defining kata. It's all bullshit, plain and simple. What matters are the small things. Fundamentals. The tiny movements and positionings and accelerations and posture and looking this way and not that. The twitch of the ring finger to give the blade that extra twist. The initial position of the grip at the beginning of a form. The final movements of resheathing; the direction of the scabbard mouth; the readiness to draw again with the speed of lightning should this turn out to be necessary. A thousand elements of micro-repertoire that combine to harmonize the practitioner with the extension of his body that is the sword, and with its purpose and what is required to wield it to perfection.

These small things get one closest to the essence of the 'art'; while the practitioner's attitude to what he is doing is the other path of approach. This maps directly onto 'life'. Thus the 'head fake'.

So, when the martial artist in question asks, not unreasonably, how one must act...act 'right' I guess...in order to have something good to tell to our children...

Well, let me try at least a few suggestions. Note that none of these will solve the problems of the world in any way—mainly because there is so 'solution', because there is no 'right' way of doing things on a large scale, and everything has to flow from the minute, and without grand schemes of utopians or aspiring utopians. Indeed, many of these suggestions are inherently non-utopian; for they are at the heart of the problems that some perceive as requiring solution. That's because many problems from the whole realm of human social life have no solution. Everything we do, depending on the context, will be 'good' in some respect and at the same time create problems in other areas.

This has always been so and will always be so—at least as long as we remain identifiably 'human'. It is a built-in paradox and there's nothing, nothing at all, that anybody can do about it—unless we stop being human.

Anybody who thinks otherwise probably also thinks that the universe itself has a right and a wrong way to go about its business; that things should be this way, but not that. But things 'should' nothing. Things are. 'Should' is a human construct with a very, very long and rather ambiguous history.

Given that this is so—and 'so' it is—what do we tell our children?

Well, there was Bob Brown, from the Unit, telling his wife "I can't betray my friends. What would that teach our children?"

Or how about Randy Pausch, who said that there are far more important things than realizing your childhood dreams: your wife and kids.

Or how about the only possible answer to one of those stupid questions I came across on a potential-employee questionnaire: Can you outline a strategy you have used to strengthen a relationship with a client.

There's only one: 'Trust'. And it's got nothing to do with 'strategy'. It's just a very simple human relationship thing. And, of course, it connects intimately to the first point.

Or maybe we should rethink the question itself, for that is the way to step outside the box we've constructed around ourselves.

What shall we tell our children?

Maybe the answer is "Not much at all", for since when has 'telling' ever done anybody any real good without there being actions to ground that which is being told?

Show. Don't tell.

And if your children feel prompted to ask you why you did this and not that, then you can tell them; and then maybe they'll understand it and take it in.

I'm tempted also to add, yet again, a wrinkly old elf's dictum—and since this is my blog I damn well shall do so.

Try not. Do. Or do not.

For if you a Dotryer, how can you ever expect your children to become anything else?

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