To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the human condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility.
—Martha Nussbaum, philosopher
Ruminating about abandoned love lately, I wonder how humans, a number of them anyhow, can open and shut their hearts with such certainty in such an uncertain world. How does one end a relationship, long and loving hard, and thereafter eviscerate the heart-memory of the once cherished object of his or her love, the light in his heart, the heat in her loins, never to speak or think of the other? Where, precisely, sleeps the graveyard of deep emotional attachment?
No one can control another to the degree necessary to keep and savor that other, to anticipate fear and resentment, illness and death–no way to squeeze answers to the riddles of human behavior.
To be exposed is to be vulnerable, open to danger, criticism, injury or death, whether physical or emotional. Who does not fear the ending of a relationship that houses everything, one that contains all of the self thrown into it?
Dedication to the notion that love means giving all to another bears some responsibility for the resulting grief and betrayal after the end. A piece, some important part must be held back, some core or foundation must be withheld in order to keep the self and the other intact. To invest all is to have everything to lose in life’s uncertainty: love’s cessation, life’s leaking despair, disability and death.
The burden of possessing every morsel of another being trumps pleasure, smothers desire.
Many believe the heart cannot survive loss, a conviction that obstructs the happiness that inclines a good human. To withdraw from others, from a lover or society that disappoints, having been badly burned, merely reduces risk of exposure; it does not prevent calamity or inevitability and so a doomed attempt to control a world in hopes of preventing further hurt and loss.
Humans cannot surrender their frailty without losing their humanity–or their beauty, according to Nussbaum. The good and happy human is unafraid. The tremulous unhappy merely encircle the tenderness and delicate skin of being with armored excuses and persistent tasks that disengage and anesthetize the will to enter the fray of the raw and unknowable–the human circus of flight, fancy and faith–forever locking doors behind them.
7 Replies to “The Good, the Ugly and the Human: a Tuesday Musing”
“Ruminating about abandoned love lately, I wonder how humans, a number of them anyhow, can open and shut their hearts with such certainty in such an uncertain world. How does one end a relationship, long and loving hard, and thereafter eviscerate the heart-memory of the once cherished object of his or her love, the light in his heart, the heat in her loins, never to speak or think of the other? Where, precisely, sleeps the graveyard of deep emotional attachment?”
It sleeps within the abyss of emotional detachment, whether it’s protective or feigned.
Oh, BTW Gaze, where did you find that picture of my ex wife and her new husband out camping?
Emotional detachment is conscious and thereby forced loss or unconscious but likewise loss, dissipation to disappearance. My question is disappearance to where, nothingness? Sublimated to the basement of the heart? The erasure of emotional content is not like pencil erasure where rubber bits mark the act, the effort of it.
But ex lovers erase love with fewer, almost nonexistent traces of the deed.
I’m sure that’s true. But as you say that’s only a number of them. I tend to think it’s a small number.
Good questions Pam, How and Where? I picked up two little morsels throughout my life from two very different philosophies that have somewhat helped me to answer the how. First, nothing is forever. Nothing is permanent. And to completely attach yourself to anything or anyone is probably not going to end well. Second, the universe does not give a damn about what we want. There is a certain “benign indifference” out there and it is absurd to think that we can fully control the outcome of anything. Combining these two truths is my way of getting through loss: someone dies, or someone goes away, or things just did not go my way this month. And where does it all happen? In your head! The hurt from the loss or disappointment does not go away but you do need to accept it and maybe to even expect it a little in the back of your mind.
Robert, I agree with you in principle about the indifferent universe and perception. What lives, dies or disappears and the experience of loss in us is a function of the mind, to the extent we can know. But I cannot be sure that is all there is or that is all that matters. We use so little of our brains and the multiverse abounds with who knows what. Energy and dark matter, the interplay of space and time…so much unknown. I’m a possibilian.
Touché. I guess that is why adhering to any one philosophy gets you more entangled in words and abstractions than might be good for you. I guess truth happens more in a mindset of not knowing.