Thursday, August 18, 2016

Poking the Pompous

There goes, but for the grace of God, God.
- Winston Churchill

Poking fun at the pompous and self-important has a long and auspicious history.  There’s just something that is so deliciously tempting about a preening, self-congratulatory blowhard that is almost impossible to resist.

Be honest: when you are in the presence of a guy who is behaving as if he were Atlas holding the weight of his family, business, spiritual community or nation on his shoulders, don’t you feel an overwhelming urge to point out his spindly legs? When you are speaking with a woman who’s every word and constant behavior screams, “I am better than you all,” with solemn demeanor and funeral-like voice, of course, how hard is it to not point out that she needs a few more stitches to hold up her wings?  

Why is it that we are attracted to people who easily laugh at themselves and who take no offense when people poke fun at their eccentricities and foibles, usually joining in with the laughter? Among other reasons, I think it is because we intuit that this man doesn’t see himself as God’s answer to every question or believes that she is superior to the hoi polloi. They know they are human, just like the rest of us and so never pretend to be other than human.

The reality is that the reason the pompous wrap themselves in robes of solemnity is to nip in the bud any notion of humor at their expense, because their fragile egos can’t handle hearing, “Look, the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!” As they see it, they are above criticism, their arguments are unassailable, and their self-righteous passions are proof-positive of their altruistic motives. Really? All most of us see is an ego with a bulls-eye just screaming to be pierced with the arrow of some well-timed humor.

The ability to laugh at our selves is evidence of humility and mental health. The inability to do so is a sure sign of arrogance and a fragile ego: the remedy for this is to have a good laugh at yourself, at least once a day, or to have others sling arrows of ego-deflating humor at you. Your choice!

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2016  

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Chapel Perilous and Moral Imagination

Men tend to mistake their private experiences for certain knowledge; thus they stumble into a prison of spirit, shut off from the painfully acquired wisdom of the species.

- Russell Kirk

In Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, as the knights of the Round Table are about to eat their supper, they all hear a crackling noise so loud that that they each think the building is about to fly-apart.  Before any of them can say a word, a sunbeam appears, “more clearer by seven times than they ever saw day, and all alighted of the grace of the Holy Ghost.”  As this light shines throughout the room, each of them then sees the others as they had never seen their fellow knights, “fairer than ever they saw afore.”  Sitting there dumbfounded, the Holy Grail appears.

“Then there entered into the Hall the Holy Grail covered with white samite, but there was none might see it, nor who bare it.”  As the Grail begins to hover around the King’s Hall, there appears before each of the knights his favorite foods and drinks.  And then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the Grail leaves the room. *

Thus begins the knight’s quest for the Holy Grail – which leads to the Chapel Perilous.

Within the Chapel, at various times, there is a sword, a healing remnant of clothing, holy water, shields, a dead knight, candlesticks, and, most always, the Holy Grail. Surrounding the Chapel is a ring of tombs. If the knight could gain entrance – and many could not – there he would discover the meaning and wisdom of the symbols within the Chapel, and, drinking from the cup, find redemption and healing.

The Chapel is perilous, however, for within its walls are also thundering voices and fiendish powers seeking to deceive and to lead the questers astray or to kill them, outright: just as there had been along the paths each knight had taken in search of the Grail.  Here, the way to victory, the way to understanding the items/symbols within the Chapel and gaining wisdom, depends upon faith, endurance, and virtue.

Moral Imagination
In reading legends, myths–here, that of King Arthur and his knights—we are introduced to representations of reality, of Truth. While these representations are symbolic, they are, nonetheless, depictions of, for example, the realities of the human condition, of the virtues required for a rightly ordered soul and community, and wisdom regarding how to make our way through the common trials and tribulations of life.  What it takes to see the meaning of these symbols is moral imagination: “the power of ethical perception.” (Russell Kirk)

But what do we all too often do when we read, if we read, such stories?

“We play with the words of the dead that would teach us, and strike them far from us with our bitter, restless will; little thinking that those leaves which the wind scatters had been piled, not only upon a gravestone, but upon the seal of an enchanted vault—nay, the gate of a great city of sleeping kings, who would awake for us, and walk with us, if we knew but how to call them by their names.”**

As we stand in the Chapel Perilous, some will only see the dead leaves and trifles of a superstitious age of credulity. The symbols within are no longer relevant and, believing so, will then remain lifeless. Those of us who are desperately seeking wisdom and healing for our selves and our communities will find, however, that these symbols can come alive, if we only have a bit of moral imagination.  

* Opening two paragraphs are taken from my book, Legendary Leadership.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2016