to Appreciate--What Does It Come From?
From an Aesthetic Realism Seminar
shows definitively that the inability to appreciate comes from contempt,
the "false importance or glory from the lessening of things not [one]self."
Contempt can be very ordinary, and a common aspect of it--which I had,
is snobbishness. I didn't see the feelings of other people
as valuable, as real as my own. Instead, I unknowingly
was building a life for myself of having as little feeling for other people
as I could, quietly looking down on others, and getting colder and more
immured within myself with every year.
Fight between Snobbishness and Honest Like of the World
Eli Siegel explains
in his great essay "The Serious Aspect of Snobbery":
Snobbery is the unwillingness to like something,
unless at the same time it makes one feel more important;...[It] is the
inability or lack of desire to appreciate justly.
Growing up in Virginia,
with my five brothers and sisters, there were things I did appreciate--like
the white and pink flowering dogwood trees in our yard. In
5th grade, I liked doing a research paper on Virginia--learning about its
agriculture which included corn, peanuts, sweet potatoes, apples growing
in the Shenandoah Valley and oysters and crabs from the Chesapeake Bay.
I liked learning, too, that Virginia was the first of the original 13 colonies,
important in the early days of American history. But I also
felt important thinking I was better than other children, more refined
and well-bred. My mother's maiden name is Wright, and for years
I used thinking that I was distantly related to the Wright Brothers to
feel snobbishly distinguished, until, to my chagrin, I found out much later
that I really wasn't.
explains that how we come to see ourselves and the world begins with how
we see persons close to us--our family. My parents were both interested
in the arts, and I came to feel we were more interesting and cultured
than other families in our neighborhood who I saw as dull, inferior, not
having the sensitivity to appreciate the finer things in life, as we did.
Once, our family
was invited to an art exhibition of one of my parent's friends.
I snobbishly felt important because I was going, but I was not interested
in the work one bit, and felt the real thrill of the day was when a photographer
wanted to take a picture of my brothers and sisters and me standing in
a line as if we were the Rockettes.
I was a snob in many
ways. In high school, I saw people's worth as based on who they "knew,"
how they dressed, where they lived. This contempt took a brutal
form in how I saw people who lived in a very poor area we frequently drove
through, called Gum Springs. Instead of being outraged that people had
to live in these dilapidated homes, I was uncomfortable and would ask with
irritation, why they didn't try to fix them up. I was relieved
after we got through this part of town.
I made no relation
between this cold attitude to people and my being painfully shy and anxious
around others most of the time, and throughout high school wrote often
in my diary about how desperately unhappy I was. Years later, in an Aesthetic
Realism class I was honored to attend, Eli Siegel explained to me:
The whole purpose of life is to be exact
about value. Either people want to be exact or they don't.
Aesthetic Realism says if you aren't exact, you're rooking yourself.
I learned from Aesthetic Realism that appreciation
is not something we bestow--it is the same as being exact about value,
"seeing [a thing] as it is."
At Florida State
University, I thought I would become more interested in things and hoped
to fall in love. When I met Tom Welsh, I was attracted by his liveliness
and good-looks, but I was more concerned with making a big impression on
him than in wanting to know him--what he was hoping for. In fact, I don't
remember ever having asked him one question about himself.
During spring break,
I planned a trip with Tom to visit my mother and stepfather in the Blue
Ridge Mountains. I thought their home, which had been written up in House
Beautiful was the height of elegance and style--and I also thought
that once there, I would have Tom all to myself. But when he
came to pick me up, and I saw that he had brought one of his fraternity
brothers, Lee, to come with us, I was mortified. Then when we arrived,
I pointed out all the highpoints of the house and surrounding landscape
and felt heady with importance. Lee was not impressed, and
said to me, "You know, just because you are associated with these things,
it is of no credit to you." Ashamed and embarrassed, I felt like
a big fake, and I also worried about whether I would ever be able to love
A few years later, in the first Aesthetic
Realism class I attended in 1973, Eli Siegel asked me:
And in another class, he explained:
And Mr. Siegel recommended I be able to
say "I want to respect my thoughts from now on, particularly about people."
I thank him for his good will, for encouraging me always to value the world
and people truly.
ES Do you like your motive
LA No, I don't.
ES What is it, to have
a good effect or to have distinction?
LA It's the second.
ES ...Is something in you
sick and tired of old motives?
next page for Part 2