One of the conventions among writers of books is to have an acknowledgements section in them to give credit where credit is due to those who have provided help in research, editing, encouragement, and other related matters. Although for most people (myself included), writing is an activity that takes place in those solitary times where one is either not around others are not paying attention to them, ultimately authoring is not a solitary activity, seeing as it often involves editors, illustrators, agents, marketers, and hopefully readers. Acknowledgement sections are a way for authors to at least begin to pay a debt to those who have helped them to create a work that may be warmly appreciated by others.
This morning, during my AM break at work, I began reading a novel that had a particularly openhearted acknowledgements section where the author acknowledged her debt to her father, who was an inspiration for the main character of the novel, a scrupulously honorable welding engineer and also somewhat reluctant but passionate revolutionary against the injustices being forced on his students. After giving credit to her father for what he had done, she finished her comments by saying, “The errors are still my own, but I’m working on them.” In doing so, she went beyond the normal cliché of an author giving thanks to her helpers and associates but taking full responsibility for the errors in the work that remain, a cliché that is no less important to remember and recognize even if it is very commonly stated.
Sometimes we fail to recognize that which is commonly stated because it is repeated so often that we cease to view it as important. As a writer, one pours one’s thoughts, one’s feelings, one’s beliefs, and even one’s being into a work. Even works of rather obscure and seemingly pointless subjects represents some kind of passion, even if only the (often misguided) passion to make a quick buck, as happens with at least a few of the books that pass my way. Yet the passion and intensity of those writers who are committed to the subjects they write about is undeniable, and the personal touch of many of these works is not often difficult to determine. A writer takes ownership for what he (or she) writes, and with that responsibility to accept whatever blame is due for what one creates, and the right to claim at least some degree of credit for the same, also includes the duty to inform others of the credit that belongs to others while freeing those helpers of the blame that ultimately falls on the creator, who is ultimately responsible for the creation, although not responsible for how that creation is twisted and perverted by others.
Often, our appreciation of a work depends a great deal on context. For example, there was once a song that was played so often in church when I was growing up that I thought it was boring and had ceased to listen to the lyrics of the song, which were taken from Psalm 119, praising the law of God. The song, appropriately, was called “O How Love I Thy Law.” On the First Day of Unleavened Bread in a meeting hall for the deaf in Central Florida, the song leader chose that particular hymn as the final hymn for services to a standing ovation from the audience, including me. Ever since then, the song has remained a favorite of mine, not because anything about the song itself changed but because it took on a great deal more meaning once I had made the decision to act out of love for God’s ways.
The same situation is the case with the book I read , from which I acquired the title of today’s post. The lead character of this particular story is an engineer without any particular personal ambition but with a fierce sense of honor and a great deal of loyalty to his innocent students being exploited by their employer/government. Listening to the wise and somewhat idealistic professor, I was reminded of my own experiences teaching, combining the technical precision and intellect that is common to engineers with a passionate and perhaps somewhat quixotic romantic sensibility that fights courageously for social justice, even at personal cost to myself.
I was reminded, once again, that the context of such matters is vitally important. Yesterday I read news that the general-in-chief of the Thai army, a man I have blogged about often, usually in an ironic or deprecatory fashion , had overthrown the caretaker government that had been put in place when the legitimate elected government was overthrown by a previous electoral coup. Thailand’s political culture is one of the more dysfunctional ones on the face of the earth, and that is a high standard of incompetence to meet. Part of the issue is that Thailand’s political power is divided between a weak and understandably timid elected government , an upper house full of unelected “independent” senators, and a royal establishment supported by a cadre of military and business elites that closely resembles the post-Napoleonic restored absolutist monarchs of Europe who had learned nothing and forgotten nothing about the experience with something approaching a slow climb to freedom.
In fact, the experience of Thailand’s nightmarishly gradual path from royal absolutism to something approaching the enlightened constitutional monarchs of Western Europe appears at this point to be something like a kabuki theater where the powers-that-be are plagued by a wrongful clinging to power and authority, with everyone else in Thailand, whether ordinary citizen, exploited hill tribe member or immigrant, or idealistic and educated Westerner, has to suffer the consequences of that wrongful clinging. It is not as if Thailand is alone in being governed by a fossilized elite that has refused to face the reality of its doom and deigned to reform in gradual and principled ways that increase the respect and honor that is offered to all. Yet the example of Thailand is particularly poignant because it is a nation that deserves far better than its fate, and one whose troubles are so deeply tied up, however oddly, with my own.
What is most spectacularly lacking in the case of Thailand’s rulers, and that can serve as an example to leaders elsewhere, is the spirit that Mrs. Bujold shows in the acknowledgements section to her novel Falling Free. There has not been a coup in Thailand because the government has been irresponsible; to be sure, it has not been perfect, but it has acted with reason and moderation, even if one could easily disagree with some of its policies. The reason why there was a coup was because instead of owning up to faults and errors and resolving to work on them until they are overcome, the elites of Thailand appear to have no interest in the well-being of the people that they seek to rule over, except insofar that making a pretense of such an interest is required to avoid a popular uprising of massive proportions that even Thailand’s army would probably be unable to resist.
Much in the way of incompetence can be forgiven of human beings of all ages. We all, after all, blunder in many ways. This does not suddenly change when one grows old and gouty and inherits or rises to some position of authority and influence. We can forgive incompetence when we know that someone is honestly doing the best that they can, to which we might reply with instruction or encouragement in the hopes that eventually they will be able to do better. We may seek to broaden perspective so that someone can do better having a better understanding of where others are coming from, which can explain much about why people act in the way that they do. It is, however, very difficult and often entirely fruitless to deal with people who not only cannot admit error to others for fear of losing face (even if they may not regard the honor and reputation of others to be worth defending or protecting), but who do not dare to work on their errors at all, nor show appreciation to others for the immense forbearance it takes in dealing with them. For none are so blind as those who simply refuse to see, and refuse to acknowledge, the common humanity that lies within us all.
 See, for example: