We’re so happy to feature a new book giveaway!
Please enjoy this excerpt from “Beyond Us” by Fred Matser.
There are 2 ways to enter to win a FREE signed hard copy:
- Leave a comment below with your email address (so we can contact you)
- Email us at KOMWriting@gmail.com with the Subject: Beyond Us giveaway entry
Winner will be randomly selected on 3/22/21 and announced on our website and social media. *
This short and vigorous book consists of a penetrating collection of interrelated essays whose defining characteristic is that they pin down, magnify and mirror back to us, with embarrassing clarity and force, our most dysfunctional yet unexamined ways of thinking, living and relating to each other in the early 21st century. Our ills are diagnosed with x-ray vision and laser precision.
The book assesses our situation from a neutral vantage point outside the cultural echo chamber of values, opinions and beliefs in which most of us find ourselves immersed. In doing so, it reveals what most of us can’t see. It confronts us with unpleasant truths about ourselves, the acknowledgement of which is imperative if we are to heal and improve our lives. The book also points to sane ways forward, and the appropriateness of these ways become self-evident once they are elucidated.
There was once a little girl called Mary, who lived in a big country house with her parents. She had a whole bedroom only for herself, with a large window through which—with the help of a little wooden bench to climb up—she could see the canopy of a great big oak tree in the backyard. She often peeked into the secret lives of the birds and insects inhabiting the tree, which provided endless entertainment for her curious mind.
By the time autumn set in, however, the world outside had turned grey and uninteresting. The birds, insects and colored leaves were gone, and everything looked damp, bare and dead. Even the chic wallpaper of Mary’s bedroom—which her mother had just replaced with much effort and care—was grey and plain like the sky outside. Mary had once overheard her mother say to her father that the wallpaper was ‘elegant’ and ‘of good taste,’ but none of that meant anything to her.
Then, on a rainy morning, upon noticing her large box of colored crayons lying on the floor of her bedroom, Mary had a sudden inspiration. In contrast to the wallpaper and the weather outside, the vibrant colors of those crayons evoked life, excitement and joy. It was a Sunday, there was no school, and Mary’s parents were busy reading the newspapers downstairs.
Seeing in the plain wallpaper an invitation for creative expression, Mary wasted no time. The wall was like a canvas open to her imagination, waiting to be filled in. She could hardly contain herself, so at once she began bringing life into it with the colors, forms and characters that gave expression to her inner world. Spontaneously and with increasing excitement, the images poured out onto the wallpaper, mirroring the life Mary felt within herself. After a short while, an entire world of fun and beauty inhabited her transformed bedroom wall. Mary felt alive, in flow, expressing herself as nature meant for her to do. That rainy, grey Sunday morning was transmuted through the magic of her creative expression. What a wonderful morning, what a wonderful world, what a wonderful life.
And then Mary heard steps on the staircase: her mother was coming up. Mary froze, suddenly awakening from her spontaneous artistic ‘dream.’ She had completely forgotten about her mom. Her bedroom door opened and there she was, her mom, three times taller than her: “What have you done?! We’ve given you new wallpaper and now you’ve ruined it! You’re not getting your candy today and we’ll cancel Charlotte’s visit for this afternoon! That’s your punishment.”
By now Mary was cowering in a corner of her room as the gigantic—and awfully menacing—frame of her mother stood over her, crushing her into submission and near panic. Mary couldn’t understand what was going on. Her mother, who had always been a source of love and safety, was now a terrifying presence. What had Mary done wrong? Was it so bad to express her creativity? Weren’t the drawings beautiful?
Apparently not. Judging by her mother’s violent reaction, she had done a terrible thing. But why? Mary had drawn with crayons on sheets of paper before and her mother always told her, very gently and serenely, how nice it all was. What was different now? Mary couldn’t wrap her little head around the seeming arbitrariness—even madness—of the situation.
Marked by this seminal event in her childhood, Mary figured that the only safe thing to do was to keep her inner life hidden very deep inside. You never know how people will react if you openly express yourself. They may turn into mean monsters; even one’s own parents, who are supposed to be protective and supportive. So Mary closed herself up like a clam. It was best to just learn and follow the rules and conform. The message conveyed by her mother’s reaction was crystal-clear: the world is a threatening place. It doesn’t give a damn about what you think, feel or want. People don’t want to know what you have inside you; they even get pissed off and might hurt you if you show it to them. All they want is that you follow the rules. Mary learned, alright. And conformed. She became a good student and later a successful professional. But she never again dared to express her feelings and emotions spontaneously, despite having tons of them.
We live in a world of Mary’s. Our lives are only partial, often even precarious, for it is too important to make sure most of our inner world remains hidden inside. It’s the only way to feel somewhat safe. Therefore, in an important sense, we are only half born. A huge and important part of ourselves—often the most important part—never sees the light of day. We participate, at best, only half-heartedly in what was supposed to be the dance of human society, but now looks more like a march of frightened drones. Too insecure are we, to open up. Adults have taught us that this is a game of conformance, not of spontaneous self-expression.
And we are all so much the worse for it. You see, children aren’t empty, malleable vessels to be taught rules so as to act mechanically. They don’t come to us simply to conform to the peculiar and ephemeral—often even arbitrary—value system of this particular culture, at this particular point in history. No, a child has a rich, living, vibrant, unique inner world. Each child is a gift to society, for each carries an original contribution to our world: a talent, a way of seeing things, a vision, a potential for expression. The child we see is like a gift- wrapped box, hiding riches inside. But if the box never opens, the gift is wasted. The way we relate to our children today ensures that the box never fully opens.
We, as parents, educators and guardians, have the responsibility to help our children engage fully with our world and contribute their gifts to our society. But first, it is we who have to go into their unique inner world, engage them on their level, in their own language, so they turn into self-confident, open adults. Only then can they meaningfully contribute to our world. Only by being able to relate to us in a safe, stimulating, nurturing way, can the new entrants of our society express their true, unique selves to the full, so to enrich the lives of us all.
We receive over a hundred million brand new gifts each year on this planet. Each unique, each a precious gem. Once, we were such gifts ourselves. Yet, instead of allowing them to add their unique color and style to the ‘van Gogh’ of human society, we force them to comply with a black-and-white set of procedures designed to make our neurotic selves feel just comfortable enough to avoid the nuthouse. We impose our insecurities and fixations on them, thereby washing out their colors.
Luckily, we have guiding examples that show us a better path forward. I have a good friend called Jane, who once told me a wonderful story of her childhood. Each morning, her mother would come back from the chicken pen with eggs to fry for breakfast. Little Jane wondered where those eggs came from: her mother would collect them in the morning and, by some kind of magic, new ones would pop up in the chicken pen the next day. This was a great mystery that needed elucidating. So one morning little Jane woke up in the wee hours, even before the chickens. Stealthily, she dressed up, opened the backdoor and went into the yard. Once there, she carefully opened the chicken pen and sat inside, next to the chickens, patiently observing. Hours passed until she realized, when one of the chickens stood up, that the eggs somehow came from under the chicken! This discovery—the fulfillment of curiosity—was one of Jane’s seminal childhood moments.
In the meantime, Jane’s mother had woken up and was frantically looking for her. She was very concerned about her daughter, until she noticed a little kid squatting amongst the chickens in the backyard. Despite being very nervous by this time, Jane’s mother walked calmly towards her daughter and squatted down, so as to be at the same level as Jane. She then proceeded to say something to the effect of: “Oh, you came to fetch some eggs, didn’t you? How nice of you. But, Jane, let me share something with you: I was very worried because I didn’t know where you were. So, next time, could you tell me where you are going?” Jane understood her mother and immediately agreed to the request.
Because Jane’s mother was wise enough to come down into Jane’s world, Jane’s curious and investigative nature blossomed. She went on to become an amazing scientist and, today, we have Jane Goodall, the primatologist whose scientific work has enriched our society and lives with hues never before seen. Like her mother, Jane has been able—with exquisite sensitivity—to enter the inner world of other living beings—chimpanzees and other primates—and relate to them in their language, so to bring to our society perspectives never before dreamed of.
Imagine what a society of Jane’s, instead of one of Mary’s, could mean for our lives.
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