Anyone who has seen my shelfies posts might think this would be VERY hard for me. But the first pick, a childhood favorite is easy:
I learned to read at age 4. My Dad would say ‘If you can read you can learn anything because someone somewhere will have written either about it (history, science, biographies) or ‘how to’ do it if a skill, project, task. I was voracious and my reading level increased so rapidly that I was reading and comprehending adult level material by the time I was 6. But this choice comes from about age 5. I was ‘bored’ (something my Dad thought no intelligent person should ever be) with children’s books, especially nursery rhymes. Dad bought me a second hand copy with the old cover that had an illustration embedded in the cloth. This was my introduction to ‘real’ poetry, and I fell in love--mad, passionate, insatiable love. That copy of it was destroyed in the house fire when I was 8. As an adult I found a a copy at a library book sale whose cover was like the one I remembered…though water damaged I could see enough to know it was the same. Something in me really wanted that older version. When my daughter was young and learning to read I bought her a new modern printing of it, but that’s a quarter century old now.
A favorite selection from it:
CHIEF of our aunts—not only I,
But all your dozen of nurselings cry—
What did the other children do?
And what were childhood, wanting you?”
I had such two such Aunties, one from each side of the family--one a very calm earth mother type, the other very cosmopolitan. I met them that year I turned 5 for the first time. But Aunt Madeline, the single working woman (at the time, she married when nearing 40) had sent packages for years, not just for me but for my sisters, with whom she had no blood connection. Those package were always a delight: For me something to play with, something to read and something edible; For my sisters hair accessories or make up instead of a toy. In high school I was introduced to Haiku poetry by a beloved English teacher, a friend and I shared a passion for e. e. cummings. And thanks to the kindness of the school librarians I discovered Countee Cullen, the non-dialect poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes and so many more…in volumes hidden away in a back room. But this volume of Stevenson’s work, much of it written during his sickly childhood, was my introduction to the world of poetry. Poetry has informed me, delighted me and comforted me over the decades. i never feel ‘sated’, am always open to discovering a new to me poet.
This is the second volume. I discovered it in my teens…possibly in public library--same place I came across Paul Reps’ “Zen Telegrams” and “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones” (prose). By end of first chapter I knew this book was important for me…so I bought a cheap paperback copy which ended up with many underlined passages (before the days of highlighters) and eventually fell apart, by which time I was an adult out on my own and could afford to by myself a new hard cover edition. I went thru and marked all the passages I had marked in the paperback, then I read it cover to cover again.
The copy is 3rd edition, published in 1972, but now so old and having been packed and unpacked repeatedly over more the decades that one can barely read the title on the spine. He was an English Professor, College President and eventually a U.S. Senator. His politics were conservative, very different from mine, but this book reinforced ways of thinking my father had cultivated in me:
Questioning everything, being careful of word choices, realizing that from another’s perspective the same event you are looking at may seem very different. The book is not dry like a textbook, but is full of citations as he quotes many diverse people to make his points and each chapter ends with an ‘Applications’ section which reminds me of those ‘review’ (sometimes with questions) sections at the ends of textbook chapters just more interesting and challenging. He writes beautifully and humorously, but then there is often humor in truths about how humans interact.
One of my biggest take-a-ways from it was the notion that we may not only be civil even in disagreements but that whether we ‘like’ a person or not has (or should have) no bearing on how we assess and respond to their opinions and the ‘arguments’ they make to support those opinions. That is to say there are people I like whom even if I agree with many of their opinions, I may challenge the reasoning they use to ‘defend’ those opinions and I am not going to agree just because I like them. There are also people I disagree with on many things but I actually like them as people. I’ve been known to defend someone with whom I was debating heatedly when a third party (or online a whole slew of others) was uncivil or challenged data the person gave that I knew to be true. Some people take it as a ‘weakness’ but between my Dad and Hayakawa I came to feel it was crucial to my integrity as a person to acknowledge when someone has/makes valid arguments in a debate of any kind. So I see it as strength. It allows me to learn and to unlearn and relearn things as the data I’m aware of or the perspective I’m considering an issue from changes.
To paraphrase a key passage which elaborates on the difference between a closed mind and an open one:
He lists 4 basic ways a listener can respond to a communication:
1. Accept speaker and statement
2. Accept speaker but reject statement
3. Reject speaker but accept statement
4. Reject speaker and statement
A closed mind is only capable of the first and fourth responses, an open mind is capable of all four. By being open we are benefitting ourselves as we can gather more data, consider more perspectives than just our own. We are giving ourselves the option of being able to appreciate some facets of others while not necessarily agreeing with or approving of everything they say and do. Of course we can always ‘walk away’ when no ‘common ground’ can be found, but in my experience that is very rare. The movie ‘Crash’ makes this point beautifully---people can heroic in some aspects of their lives and villainous in others. Sometimes we have to weigh whether our priorities and values make further interaction with someone reasonable or not. But dismissing anyone on a single difference of opinion unless your health safety at risk due to their position is counterproductive---who knows what you could have learned them. At the very least in debating an issue with them you might clarify your reasons for your opinions and beliefs. This way of looking at human interactions, communications has served me well in both workplace and home environments. I don’t argue to ‘win’, my goal is to understand and if need be come to some compromise on what course to take. So it is extremely rare, even with people who are close enough to me that they can wound me deeply, for me to go for the ‘emotional jugular’ when arguing with someone, even if they’ve just done it to me. Again, often viewed as a weakness…but I sleep better.