Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Art of Loving People

For Kathy who always gives.

“People must prove to the people
A better day is coming for you and for me
With just a little bit more education
And love for our nation
Would make a better society”

Curtis Mayfield

We can probably all name someone in our lives we consider supremely special -someone whose generosity and love is immeasurable. Living without them is unimaginable. If we’re conscious of the trappings of idealism we avoid believing they are an angel or guardian bequeathed to us by some divine power. Yet we feel wonderfully blessed to have them in our lives.

To pedestalise anyone comes with certain consequences. For one thing a pedestal is a height from which they could fall. And if they’re tempted to bask in our glorification of them how would this impact their ego? If we put someone on a pedestal how do we place ourselves? Are we always looking outwards and upwards – anywhere but inwards for salvation (I use this word in the sense of a ‘salve’ - that which soothes/relieves). Self reflection can seem too abstract - if not terrifying. But I think we need that special someone as much as we heed the “still small voice.” (There is no typo – ‘heed’ spirited itself into the sentence and I think it fits.)

I would like to dedicate this Shout to those people who have that precious capacity to love in spite of a life traumatised by suffering and loss. That could be said for many people since love is the common human factor around which the world revolves. Even when our lives are embattled and embittered we’re still able to squeeze some portion of love for our significant (and sometimes insignificant) others. But it is not that ‘squeezed out portion’ of love that concerns me here, for truly that comes naturally. I speak of love that is consciously crafted towards perfection; of love that is unbounded, that fearless kind of love that propels the human spirit. Put another way it is love borne of a creative impulse and thus designed for the unshackling of humanity. This is what I mean by the ‘art of loving people.’

How do we cultivate this art? Is it more natural and therefore easier for some people than others? If so why? Is it perhaps derived from the experience of and commitment to struggle? Recently at the 7th Annual Huntley conference Sculptor Fowokan explained that his art was a reflection of his life. As an African his life has been one of struggle and therefore his work embodies resistance to imperialist domination. Thus in his work we find strong, brazen figures of male and female warriors or queens and the spirited people memorialised from childhood in Jamaica. It is this politics of his art I love. For me art so engaged is imbued with transformative power. The power to positively and progressively transform people, society and the world has to the basis for cultivating the art of love.

At school a destiny was laid before me which I skilfully averted. Racist teachers directed me towards Athletics. I wasn’t particularly good but they thought it was all I was good for. And maybe I could have excelled in the field, mastered the discipline involved in sprinting, long jump, high jump etc but I resented the inference. I later observed that the next possible field in which I could be gainfully employed was Social Work. Sociology degrees seemed a natural course of study for a number of Black people/Africans. I wondered why? Certainly I felt straitjacketed, my choices limited. Though a number of Africans are Teachers now and yet more, Teacher Assistants, I didn’t imagine I could become one back then. My mother’s generation were mostly nurses – the men worked in public transport. A number of Africans also work as Carers in Residential Housing. The point being made is that these are people focussed roles. Excepting that racism barred many of us from diverse opportunities I have often wondered whether these society enriching roles were a natural choice for us as Africans. Again, is cultivating the art of loving people determined by our affinity with struggle and suffering?

Suffering is experienced by most people which means that this ‘affinity’ should not seem absurd. But are we conscious that we can generate creative power through the expression of love for others? Or do we transfer this power to someone or something else? It may be possible for some of us to experience pain and suffering without attuning ourselves to the shared experience of others. But how do we advance our humanity this way?

We live in a society which from time to time advises us how to be human. Before Feminists fought for women’s rights, Africans struggled for their rights as human beings. Neither battle is won – women throughout the world are still engaged in the struggle for their rights; Africans continue to be oppressed throughout the world. Age-discrimination (imagine!) is a (re)newed topic of human interest. Doctors, Nurses and I presume carers are being told to be more ‘compassionate’ when dealing with elderly patients. This is bizarre. Addressing an elderly as ‘dear’ will now be deemed ‘agist’ – actually a law will be passed to restrict (criminalise people for) usage of the term (along with ‘bed-blocker’ – fair enough!). Should we be concerned that this society feels it necessary to instruct us how to be ‘compassionate’ towards elders?

That a law is required to encourage compassion suggests a prevalence of anti-humanness in our society. We shouldn’t be surprised. We live in a capitalist society which drives us to individualism. But capitalism can only compromise our humanity if we are not conscious of our power to express love in the face of extremes. The current economic situation imposes burdens on all of us that can make us want to hide, if not do something more drastic to escape the rut. I have a friend who constantly questions why although she works so hard she never has that magical surplus income. She does not desire the surplus for lavishness. If she works another day or for a few more hours she will give the money earned to someone who needs it, in spite of her own needs. Capitalism has never been about egalitarianism or humanism. We live under a system that steers us toward anti-humanness for it developed from the enslavement of people (not from love of people). My friend pumps more of her labour into the system in order to express her love to people. It is an unnatural bind but her efforts are a literal labouring for love.

Commitment to the struggle for human fulfilment is an empowering act and art of love. The self that struggles only for itself also expresses a measure of anti-humanness. The self that can find no way to attune itself to the experience of others, to love greatly, freely, fearlessly; to involve itself with the collective human spirit is unconscious of their creative power. The creative expression of love embodies the threads that pulls together the colourful, beautiful tapestry of which we all are part. We must therefore resist systems and ideas that attempt to bind our humanity, and thus blights our creative expression. Those engaged in struggle do so by attuning themselves to suffering, hurt and oppression. I extend a note of tribute to some of those loving people who continue the struggle despite the recycling of these human ordeals. By their example a new, better world is possible.