I was reading in the New York Times yesterday about the various passions driving the current anti-western violence in the Middle East. What caught my attention was that those sympathizing with the rock-throwers and embassy-burners saw the conflict as a struggle for freedom. These men wished to be free from the pain that insults against their beliefs caused them. That America had not jailed the man responsible for this pain was commensurate with not jailing a murderer. The pain of an insult, in their perception, was equal to if not greater than the pain of physical suffering. As a writer, this story piqued my interest. It was framed as a question of freedom of speech versus freedom from pain And in one way I have to agree with the men and women who see the pain of insult as perhaps the greatest pain humans can suffer. As Goethe said, “The worst thing a man can do is think ill of himself.”
How true. Think ill of yourself and your suffering follows you throughout your day. Think yourself worthless, cowardly, stupid, ugly, dull, or broken and with the speed of thought your value plummets, and all your actions are irretrievably diminished by your brokenness. This is the pain of a life hardly worth living, of lifelong impotence, of meaningless choices. Such thoughts condemn us for a time to a cell of our own miserable perception, within which no one has ever felt free.
I have always believed in the power of language, but if writing has taught me anything, it has taught me that it is impossible to make another human being think anything. The most I can do is recommend with compelling honesty. Many times I have wished it were otherwise, but that place within us where every choice is made remains a sovereign land. Within those borders we dwell in pristine freedom, alone with our chosen love, our chosen curiosity, and our chosen pain.
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