This week, I would like to talk about extremes and extremism. Extremes need not necessarily have negative connotations, while extremism enters the realm of the unreasonable and the pathetic. This past weekend, I had an experience that I would like to categorize as living in the extremes. I am not boyish, physically, but I am constantly stimulated by the adolescents that I have the honor of educating: this keeps me young. Our youth are constantly filled with fresh and effervescent ideas and thoughts, and we learn from them.
Now my world of extremes: Last Friday night, I went to the opera with a friend of mine. The oeuvre was Benjamin Britten’s, The Turn of the Screw. The libretto details, in my opinion, the tragedy of loss, isolation and madness contrasted against love, compassion and hope. Though the music was excellent, the plot left me deeply troubled. As I walked home, I prayed that the world was not as dark as Henry James vision. I believe that evil exists in the world, but it is not a part of most people’s reality. Thus, I would maintain that the world is mostly good. Now, I am not naïve. How do I support this thesis? I would begin with my age. In my fifty-eight years of life, I have never been shot, stabbed, assaulted or robbed. You can add other violent details if you so desire, but this reality has never been a part of my life: either I am extremely lucky or this is a fact for most of humanity. We all know that this is the truth: human beings are normally decent and thoughtful.
Anyone ever hear of Mr. Big? It is a super band that originally began in 1991. Their hair may be gone but the sound continues. Last Saturday night, I was invited by one of my students to attend their concert in Taichung. He suggested that I come early to get a good position in the venue. I arrived only to see my charge at the very, very beginning of the line. I stood beside him discussing the foursome and the reason for their longevity. I was not prepared for the ardor of the fan base. They chortled and bubbled waiting for the doors to open. Suddenly, it was time. It was like the pent-up water in a dam being released: we literally gushed from the front of the line, through the doors into the breakwater at the front of the stage: we were first. Our location suggested that “nice guys finish last.” About four lines back, there was a young girl from one of my high schools. I invited her to join the line: much to the chagrin of my other line-mates. “We don’t want to share.” After some pleading on my part everyone gave five centimeters and the sweet young woman was accommodated in the queue.
What came next was totally surreal: the stage exploded. Guitars and writhing bodies slithered and launched themselves into the air for the next three hours. The young lady beside me began to weep: what drama. My most fascinating experience was when the lead singer, Eric Martin, bent down and asked me for a piece of gum. It was human, all too human.Then it was over. The consequence was that I could not hear: great fun. The last concert I attended was in Paris when I was eighteen years old: I listened to The Who.
Extremism, however, does more than deafen us; it seizes our free will and diminishes independent thought. This concept can be anything from fanaticism in political thought to prejudice in religion. We must promise ourselves that we will fight against this sickness. Mankind is meant to be free and happy, not ideologically amaurotic and stupid. When we stand back as human beings, what is our mandate? It is, I believe, to share our excellence. We must take in knowledge, analyze the data and return our synthesized wisdom to the world. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), a key figure in the introduction of the Indian philosophies Vedanta and Yoga to Western society, leaves us with a thought (He introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893): We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far.
This week, during your exercise schedule, please consider the concept of extremism on your meditative stroll: its evil must be expunged.
Every day look for something magical and beautiful.