Far Out: Contradictions
By: Jeannette de Beauvoir, October 3, 2011
This past week I read a disturbing article about Gertrude Stein.
Despite being openly lesbian, American, and clearly Jewish, she and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, lived peacefully in Vichy France for the whole of World War II, possibly under the protection of a French Gestapo sympathizer and advisor to General Pétain.
Her fabulous art collection—usually a major target of looting Nazis in France—was left intact. She did pretty well, all in all, while every other lesbian and Jewish woman in the country was being deported to almost-certain death.
I didn’t want to read that. I didn’t want to know that.
Reality, as I discover each day anew, is that humans are complex and inconsistent. I don’t like that reality. The complexities are interesting; the inconsistencies are insane. I want white to be white and black to be black and pink to be pink. I want people to be good or evil, decisions to be right or wrong, issues to have a correct or incorrect side to be on.
Things would be so much clearer then, wouldn’t they?
The inconsistencies within
I include myself in the inconsistencies of human thought and behavior. I come from a very wealthy family and pretty much moved to the other end of the economic spectrum once I came of age, declaring myself a fervent socialist and spending what money I had on education so that I could become a better-informed socialist.
Possession is theft. To own is to lose. From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.
Those were my mantras. And yet five years ago I co-purchased a house—a house!—with someone, and now I’m experiencing anxiety over possibly not qualifying for a refinance that would take my ex’s name off the mortgage and make the house wholly and legally mine. Yet, I am still at heart a socialist! I still believe that capitalism is heartless and evil and simply doesn’t work; I’m part of a union; I work for change.
How about them apples? Not exactly the most consistent stance possible, is it?
It’s difficult to see how two mutually exclusive propositions can be held in the same brain, yet they frequently are. It’s an enigma.
Anyone who has had a relationship come to an end knows just how inconsistent people can become then. The same person who held all your fears and insecurities and secrets close, who nurtured and loved you through them, suddenly sees—and uses—them as ammunition. Is this the same person you fell in love with?
The answer is, of course, yes. We’re all capable of greatness and of baseness. We’re all ready to hold trust or to betray it.
Everyone breaks down, everyone makes mistakes, everyone behaves badly at one time or another. At some point in our life, at some point on our psychological/spiritual journey, we have to ignore the wizard’s admonition and pay attention to the man behind the curtain. And what happens then?
I think that one of the hardest things in life is to separate people – their essence, their soul, if you will – from their behavior, their thoughts, their decisions. I’ve given this issue a lot of thought; I’ve spent most of my literary career, in fact, exploring it.
In Legende, my first novel, a whole community turns against two longtime village inhabitants, previously loved and accepted by all, because of the discovery that they were lesbians. In Wings and Flight, an intelligent, loving, and caring individual is shown to be an active engineer of corporate greed, political manipulations and the instigation of war for profits. In The Illusionist, the protagonist struggles with the meaning of her love for her father once she discovers that he may have played a significant role in the extermination of Jews and dissidents during World War II.
Consistency? I don’t think so.
So here’s how I’m trying to make sense of it. I can’t control the world around me, I can’t control what anyone else does, or thinks, or says … but what I can control is my thoughts. I can decide to feel angry – or to feel peaceful. I can choose to cling to bad feelings, or to let them go. It’s all up to me.
What about you? How do you respond to the contradictions and inconsistency you see in others … and in yourself? Leave me a comment … I’d love to know.