Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ways of seeing

I love the title of this blog post, because it's the title of a book I love, by British art historian John Berger. Ways of Seeing explores the way of seeing the world captured by European oil paintings, which Berger argues came into being alongside capitalism, and which express capitalist values, such as the thirst for possessions. This is a fitting allusion for me to make because my post today is inspired by Benjy's despair over economic injustice, as well as his generally dark view of the world.

Ben believes the world is peopled with miscreants. Evil-minded folks, whose sole interest in life is doing harm. According to Ben, people destroy the environment, act with cruelty toward animals and other people. We (okay not we -- they) smoke and do drugs and steal and take up more than our share of limited space. People (and I think what he means by people is kids) don't care about other people's feelings. And that is a sad state of affairs.

Although there are times when I share this view -- rare, but still -- I always encourage Benjy to reflect on the goodness and beauty in the world. I remind him that he's practicing Bach's Air on the G-String, on his violin -- when he can bear to practice -- and how that music fills him with joy and rest. I point out that there are a few museums in Boston full of human-made things of astonishing loveliness, and better yet, that there are many, many doctors and teachers and social workers and moms and dads (and more!) in this world who dedicate their lives to serving other people.

And he replies, "There is nothing beautiful or good here. And my life is not worth much."

What really gets his goat is the way people are so hung up on THINGS. Of course, he himself is hung up on things; he seems to believe that getting more stuff will ease the dreadful, lonely ache he feels in his gut, all the time and without much relief. So he asks for X-Boxes and fish and tortoises and Airsoft guns (like that's going to happen!), and all the while he slips into a listless depression over the greed of Other People. This is not a surprising  obsession, given how all-encompassing -- and contentious -- our public discourse on economic injustice has become at the moment. Lars and I WANT our children to reject injustice of any kind. When they grow up we want them to march peacefully against it, to write about it, to teach their children to fight it. But we do not want Benjy to suffer so much when he contemplates it, when he contemplates what's wrong in the world.

Right now there's a lot that's wrong in the world. But still, there's Bach, and Benjy can play the Air on the G-string. And I would give anything, truly, anything, for him to feel how sweet life can be.


  1. Having a strong sense of social injustice is not the worst trait, but hopefully as he grows and learns Benjy can be more comfortable accepting others flaws, especially peers. What a sweet, smart, and caring young man you are raising.

  2. Thank you, Laurel. I do hope he can learn to be more comfortable with the gray areas in life.