short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Concretize and Personalize the Abstract

One would think that war would be very concrete, but it is not. It is abstract, far too abstract. That is the only way that leaders, soldiers, and individuals of one country can go about slaughtering the leaders, soldiers, and individuals of another country.

I had a friend from Kuwait when I was an undergraduate student at Pennsylvania State University during the days of the Vietnam conflict. Al was also an undergraduate, but he was a published poet at home. For a couple of semesters, we spent out free time together, composing poetry. Then, we took a course together in writing poetry. While that course convinced that I did not want to (and probably should not) settle on contemporary poetry as the mechanism through which to express my ideas, I will never forget a poem that Al wrote about that war. (Let's call it what it really was.)

To many of us students, Vietnam was an abstract place and the war an event to which many of our friends went and from which some did not return. Others returned but not in good physical, or mental, shape. We fought against it, yelled about it, held rallies, and otherwise tried to convince our leaders to eliminate this horrible abstraction. We decried it as immoral, but we did not feel it in a way that those who served there did and those who lived there did. The closest we ever came to personalizing it was the fear that seeped out when Uncle Sam beckoned his finger at someone we knew.

To Al, the Vietnam conflict should have been even more abstract. After all, it was not his country that was engaged in that war although certainly some of his newly made American friends found themselves sent off in the direction of Asia, dressed in combat gear.

However, Al was a born poet with deep understandings. He knew how to use a metaphor and how to personalize it. He talked in his poem about someone who "crept about the fields, filling satchels of weeping." That someone, of course, was the collective population of the country, the "enemy," an abstraction. (It is much easier to fight the enemy on a large scale when the enemy is an abstraction.) And so Al admitted the abstraction, beginning his poem with the words, "The name was Len Nui." His next line, though, made the enemy real: "Her name was Len Nui."

Human relationships are often like war. We do not personalize them enough. With the growing number of interactions that take place from home or the office via the computer, the tendency is toward greater, not lesser, abstraction. Unfortunately, abstract notions seem to cloud our view of the person we are looking at when we do have an interaction with another human being. More and more in recent years, I have watched acquaintances and strangers alike treat people as categories, not as individuals. The co-worker is not just a colleague; there is a real person there. The teller at the bank is not just a money dispenser; there is a real person there. The neighbor we have never met is not just someone with a house in the same neighborhood; there is a real person there. If everyone personalized relationships, there would be less animosity in this world. Killing the enemy is much easier than killing Len Nui. Seeing Len Nui in place of a faceless enemy might mean far fewer wars.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes, copyright 2003.

Note: For a dramatic enactment of this concept, see the movie, Joyeux Noel.

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About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.