Thursday, August 27, 2009

Random Acts of...Something

From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines...
Walt Whitman

...some years ago was teaching this advanced-level college writing class...the head of the department said nobody was really sure what the course was supposed to be, and they were planning on discontinuing it after that year...which meant, basically, I could do whatever I wanted with it...

...I encouraged the students to write in unconventional ways...about whatever they felt like...which, for many of them, turned out to be stuff that was highly personal...sometimes shockingly so...

...one wrote about her relationship with her boyfriend...specifically their sex life...I don’t remember the details, though apparently something in her boyfriend’s behavior, as she described it, was so revolting it inspired me to write this guy sounds like an asshole in the margin...which was incredibly unprofessional, not to mention rude, so I promptly scribbled it out...

...my rule, when taking back a comment on a student paper, is to obliterate it...leave nothing but a black smudge...but, this time, apparently, it remained legible...

...not that I was aware of that, at the time...in fact, forgot all about the paper, and the student, until a year or so later when, in a different town, teaching at a different school, I got a letter with her name at the top of the return address...figured she was probably looking for a recommendation...

...opened the envelope to find a card with a Stieglitz photo and a Whitman quote...see above...

...along with a completely unexpected litany of thank you’s...for some reason, she said, she’d felt comfortable writing about her experience in my class...and, in the process of writing, and reading my asshole remark, along with whatever else I wrote (which I don’t remember at all), came to realize she was in an abusive relationship...which led to her getting out of it...

...she said I’d made a difference with her...and her letter made quite a difference with me...

...and yet, when I consciously try to change the world, very little seems to come of it...

...so...do you think it's possible to practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty by calling somebody an asshole?

21 comments:

markstoneman said...

Well, you could say that you were calling someone an asshole. But it sounds more like you were empathizing.

Karin Bartimole said...

absolutely - truth is truth!

Drowsey Monkey said...

If that's all it took, based on my outbursts, this would would be a beautiful peaceful place ;)

But I do think it is the really small things that often seem to go unnoticed that make the largest difference in peoples lives.

I find listening to someone, the simple act of listening, makes a huge difference. Of course listening is not simple at all. The thing is it feels very passive, but its very powerful.

I think it's very nice that she sent you the letter.

Bob Weisenberg said...

Great blog.

Perhaps you're the perfect person to answer the question I ask in a blog I wrote earler today:

JACK LONDON YOGA

Take a look at this very interesting blog on linda's yoga journey:

http://lindasyoga.blogspot.com/2009/08/circle-of-life.html

Here was my response. Do you know the answer?

"I have become fascinated recently by influence of Yoga on writers, particularly the "American Trancendentalists"--Whitman, Emerson, and Thoreau. I was so surprised to seeing their references to the Gita and Upanishads in their writing. I just didn't notice that when I studied them as an English major.

Now here is Jack London, sounding like he just stepped out of an Upanishad himself. Now I have to go figure out whether he, too, was steeped in Eastern wisdom, or is just an example of one of my personal favorite themes--the universality of Yoga philosophy?

Perhaps you already know the answer.

In any case, thanks for the enjoyable intellectual provocation."

Bob Weisenberg www.yogademystified.com

Rhiannon said...

You bet it's possible! You were kind and very helpful to "her" not the asshole...you helped get her out of an abusive relationship..every random act of kindness leads to another and then another and another..as it spreads all around in this world. Isn't that a wonderful thing?

She also did a random act of kindness by thanking you and letting you know you made a difference in her life. See, how it makes a full circle and spreads around? Cool..very cool.

I find myself doing random acts of kindness maybe more than I should (so I'm told by many who think I should be more selfish and take more care of "me") but I have always told myself that all the people that watched me suffer and saw what I was going through for so long for so many years..never did a thing but look on and watch me..some (strangers looking on) seeming to enjoy watching me suffer (never understood that)..or they would turn away..and my promise to myself was that my way of healing over this would be to help others when I see them suffer and obviously in need of help..strangers, people I know or friends..whoever. I cannot look away nor will I "look on" with someone in pain right in front of my eyes. This has helped to heal me..it has been one of "my lessons".

We live in rather a passive sick way in regards to ignoring the suffering of others. I think many people have become "numb" to it..with all the violence around us, the violent movies and tv shows that show constant blood,gore, suffering, horrific things..and we all wonder why this country has become so violent? What a joke..It's right in front of our faces on tv in the news and all around us. Which is why I don't watch much tv.

Wouldn't it be great to have a tv news show that could only show "good news"? I'm sure good reporters would be able to find a lot of it...if they tried to!

Continue your random acts of kindness..well done! And I hope that many who read your post and make comments in here will start on doing the "Random acts of kindness" also..let's spread it all around..it is so time!

Blessings,

Rhi

Lana Gramlich said...

Truth is relative, of course & sometimes it's not very pretty. It's the result of the sharing that's important. ;)

patti said...

I was going to paraphrase this, however, here is a quote I found today that seems to fit your post:

“When we do not trouble ourselves about whether or not something is a work of art, if we just act in each moment with composure and mindfulness, each minute of our life is a work of art. So we must go back to ourselves, and when we have joy and peace in ourselves, our creations of art will be quite natural, and they will serve the world in a positive way”- Thich Nhat Hanh, 1991

Lydia said...

I'm a believer in bluntness, and in this case it paid off in the form of changing someone's life. Lucky that you were unsuccessful in masking the margin comment...
Is it possible to practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty by calling somebody an asshole but deleting the comment so that no one ever gets the message?

The exchange between you and this student was one of life's beauties.

Eco Yogini said...

very cool. You never know how you are influencing the world, which is kinda creepy huh?

Brooks Hall said...

I like hearing about the teacher Jay and the human Jay. And I can imagine as a college student (especially because I did some writers time travel to that age yesterday) sharing that kind of detail, I might have spent effort to see what you had wrote and scribbled out, too. She probably really wanted to know... Sounds like she was reaching out, and you might be one of the good people.

When words come from the heart, it's always good. It might not always be appropriate, though... But telling the truth isn't an exercise in politeness.

Also things can just move through us. Like maybe you don't remember all the details that she did because you were participating in a process that was larger than you. It sounds like your comment scratched out just enough to leave it there helped her. That worked well without you needing to know it. And I love the quote. How cool.

Brooks Hall said...

I love the picture, too. Is it the space in the skyline that allows for the organic growth of the tree, or is the alive quality in the tree trying to obey the lines in the city?

Seeing Eye Chick said...

Hell Yea!

So often in this world people are afraid of speaking the truth, when that is what the world needs most.

Good for you! It matters to the ones you save!

BTW you have been awarded the Honest Weblog Award.

Lumen et Aperio said...

You were kind to *her* by calling him an asshole, so to answer your question...yes!

Kim said...

Apparently it is possible to practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty by calling somebody an asshole, because you did it here.

Sometimes all people need to get out of a bad situation is a neutral observer to tell them the situation sucks. You were that neutral observer. And I'm glad you didn't completely scribble away the comment.

RB said...

Sounds more like a random act of truth-telling that being inappropriate. Sometimes the truth isn't "polite." But it's necessary.

earthtoholly said...

Wow. This was such a cool story, drjay. I really enjoyed it.

I think you've proven that the best way to change the world is to change somebody's world--for the better, of course--just as you did. And both of you made a change in each other, unintentionally. Neat.

So, to answer your question, yes!

the walking man said...

Absolutely.

Deborah Godin said...

Absolutely! That's what friends, professors and perfect strangers are for.

Nothing Profound said...

In answer to your last question, obviously yes, since you did it. Besides, no one can change anybody. People change when they're ready to change, and you happened to be there at the right time and served as the catalyst.

NM Illuminati said...

Sometimes, in order to do good, we must do things which appear bad. I think you were just an outlet for something else to play itself out. Call it a higher power if you will.

These things work in strange synchronicities.

berenice said...

dear Dr. Jay, as a non-native English speaker I have taken a couple of English classes here in the US, I would've looooove being in your experimental class, sounds like a lot of fun... and I'll tell you, my English 101 professor was very vanguardist and open-minded, like you! and it was a pleasure to write for him and to assist to his classes... I just wrote on my blog calling many people assholes, including most of the members of the human race, ha! and YES, i think sometimes calling somebody an asshole is the only RIGHT thing to do, since humans mostly, well, we don't easily learn nor appreciate ;) i wish i have listened to my mother when she many times called "pendejos" some of my ex-boyfriends, it took many years to realize, but now i know she was right!