I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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My grandmother always told me that I was hers, that I was Mexican. That was her role. It was not my teacher’s role to tell me I was Mexican. It was my teacher’s role to tell me I was an American. The notion that you go to a public institution in order to learn private information about yourself is absurd. We used to understand that when students went to universities, they would become cosmopolitan. They were leaving their neighborhoods. Now we have this idea that, not only do you go to first grade to learn your family’s language, but you go to a university to learn about the person you were before you left home. So, rather than becoming multicultural, rather than becoming a person of several languages, rather than becoming confident in your knowledge of the world, you become just the opposite. You end up in college having to apologize for the fact that you no longer speak your native language.
For a long time, during the dirty war in Colombia, when my friends were being shot dead all around me, my goal was just to survive. But after I was tortured, my goal changed. It was not just to survive, but to live a meaningful life. Sometimes, in the ordeal, we find the seeds of our identity.
Once you’ve seen, up close, the evil human beings are capable of, you’re not going to see the world, other people, or even yourself the same way again. Those of us who’ve never had such an experience might imagine how brave or cowardly we would be in extreme situations, but people who’ve been exposed to those situations know what they did and didn’t do. And, almost inevitably, they failed to live up to some expectation they had of themselves.
The notion that exposure to violence incites violence is itself media-driven. Exposure actually does something much worse than incite violence: it cultivates a sense of insecurity and dependence that makes people submit to indignities no human being should ever have to bear.
One quality that helps a marriage work is when partners respect each other and are each grateful for what the other brings to the relationship. Relationships run on an economy of gratitude. And if your partner needs to change his or her behavior, it’s important to ask for that change without attributing bad motives to the behavior. When you do argue, or when your partner gets angry, look for the soft emotion under the hard one and talk to that. A belief in the goodwill of the other person is critical.
You have to practice tuning out the noise of the culture to hear the messages transmitted from your gut and your heart. You have to become like a bird-watcher and be vigilant and develop the skills to spot and name the quick flash of awareness in yourself.
[Economics] tries to use equilibrium concepts to model a system which is in a constant state of disequilibrium and is continually evolving. As I began to dig into all of this, I decided that economics is politics in disguise. It is simply a way of rationalizing certain decisions about how to allocate resources from the point of view of the people who have the money to pay economists: the powerful interest groups like military contractors, politicians, trade associations, and the like.
Global depression, I could call it in clinical jargon to indicate the pervasive nature of the disorder in the psyche. But lately the term has taken on a new meaning for me, suggesting a worldwide malaise shaped by the unconscious link between our suffering and the wounds the earth itself sustains. It seems as if the degradation of nature has produced a dark, subliminal undertow affecting the collective psyche.
I lived downtown in an apartment complex that, for its Second Empire facade, transient tenantry, and despotic manager, I had dubbed the “Totalitarian Hotel.” The manager, Mrs. Vollstanger, was a gouty old Prussian and always wore pearls and thick, embroidered white sweaters.
Look at it this way: Keeping a child on welfare costs about sixteen hundred dollars a year in cash and services. To keep that same child in foster care costs about six thousand dollars a year. And if that child winds up in prison, the cost is around twenty thousand dollars a year. Most governments figured out a long time ago that welfare is the cheapest way to keep people out of institutions — and also to keep them from taking to the streets to protest their poverty.