Experience Hasn’t Set You Free

Earlier today I was doing some research for a future post on my series on acts that are worthy of induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that have hitherto been ignored or neglected by either the nominating committee or the voters themselves [1], and I was looking up one of my favorite 80’s synth pop musicians, Howard Jones. Although he had several successful albums and around a dozen hit singles in the United States and Great Britain, he commented that he never got good reviews, was proud of the fact that he wasn’t liked by the media, and that pop music is reactionary and bigoted and that what is thought to be cool is shallow and transient [2]. In looking up his albums and how they were viewed, I came across one particularly fierce review that said that his debut album was marred by a profound sense of ressentiment [3]. Of course, no one should care what the Village Voice says about culture anyway, although people who are artists really do care about the way their art is viewed, and are often rather dissatisfied with their own art, and deeply driven by their own profound sense of divine discontent.

It so happens, though, that ressentiment is a frequent aspect of Howard Jone’s work, over the entire course of his career, and it is quite possible that this sort of feeling, which is nearly universally panned by philosophical types who glory in the man of action who has no time for reflection and brooding upon the wrongs committed by others, hindered his enjoyment of music. Certainly, ressentiment has no place for a Buddhist who is supposed to be at peace with the world, or for that matter for a Christian who is supposed to uproot any root of bitterness within us. Yet such gloomy and continual reflection on the wrongs that have been done is a major aspect of life both within the United States and around the world. Indeed, whether one is looking at the whining the self-professed victim groups of ethnic, gender, class, and sexual subaltern minorities within our culture, or examine the populism of anti-immigrant right-wing groups in the United States and abroad, the hunt for scapegoats to flagellate in expiation for our problems is alive and well, no matter how distinct the identity of those scapegoats may be depending on where one stands and what identity we claim.

Yet it is not my purpose today to rant about the decrepit state of our political scene or about self-absorbed artists who brood on the wrongs committed to them and turn it into transcendent and enduring, if often awkward and uncomfortable, art, as interesting as those subjects are and as near and dear to my own heart and my own experience. Instead, I am most interested in understanding how we can avoid such an approach in our own lives, and how we can move beyond it if we find ourselves seeking to blame others for our own suffering. After all, none of us can do anything about the past, and even if we can blame others for the wrongs that they have done against us, that does not make our lives any better. What we are responsible is for making the best of what we have been given, whether it has been a lot or a little, or whether it has been good or bad, or more usually some mixture of the two.

It is not the change in external conditions, after all, that changes our internal emotional state. Howard Jones, after all, is a well-beloved musician who made some of the best music of the decade, certainly within synth pop, and he still feels that he is uncool and disregarded by critics. More tragically, the ressentiment of Richard Nixon against the cultural elites that he felt looked down on him led him to sabotage his own presidency through dirty tricks, forcing a humiliating resignation in the face of the threat of certain impeachment and conviction. We may be hated, disregarded, unfairly neglected or insulted or mocked or abused, but acting out of resentment and bitterness over such things only hurts ourselves, no matter how true our suspicion and paranoia may be. If we are to live a worthwhile life, one that does not poison us from the inside out or harm those around us who must bear the brunt of our bitterness and sour attitudes, we must find a way to rise above the bitterness, to be people who are great of mind, capable of overlooking and forgiving slights and abuses, long before we are viewed as great and noble from the outside.

It is, after all, our greatness of heart and mind and spirit, not the greatness of the titles that we possess, that mark us as great people. If we do not rule over our own emotions, we have no place ruling over other people, who we will only harm out of our own insecurity and immaturity if we are given power over them. If we are the sort of people who live life well, who are dedicated to open honesty, to kindness and concern for the well-being of others, for continual improvement and ongoing growth and development, and service to others, then regardless of whether or not we have any titles at all we will be people of influence wherever we happen to be, simply because our example will be transparent and obvious, and appreciated by those whose opinions and judgments matter, ultimately by God above. There is no place for a small mind or for viewing our lives and example as unimportant, for we are all part of a vastly larger drama than any of us can conceive, before an audience that is staggering to the imagination. We must prepare ourselves internally for the greatness we were born for long before anyone else, or even we ourselves, have any realization of that greatness, or we are likely to be so poisoned by the evil around us and within us that we cannot rise above the mire at all.

Far from being a slave morality, Christianity calls all of believers to act as rulers. It is rulers, after all, who engage in pageants of pardon and reconciliation [4] because it is a demonstration that one is not ultimately harmed by the words or deeds of others, so that one is strong enough to let a wound go, rich enough to forgive a debt and not brood over it, and possessed of enough confidence that one can avoid plotting revenge even in fantasy against those who oppose us. Yet unlike the rulers of this world, our confidence is not in ourselves or in our blood lines or in our titles and offices, but it is rather in the fact that we are children of the Most High God. And, as Paul said so well, if God is for us, who can be against us. If we truly are walking according to God’s ways, and are truly accepted as His children, then the elites and haters and critics of this world are of no account, are of dust on the scales, and are not worthy of even being considered.

If we walk with God, those who are also of God will appreciate it, eventually. It is the wise that recognize the wisdom in others and do not see it as a threat to their own honor for wisdom, for wisdom rejoices in good company and in the sharing of wisdom so that all may be made wiser, in the recognition that understanding and wisdom are not merely for acquisition, but in their sharing and spread they become all the more precious because the sharing and growth of wisdom raises the level by which we all live our lives and in how we behave with each other. In the end, life is too short to waste it nursing grudges, and our hearts only large enough to be filled either with bitterness or with love and outgoing concern for others. May we choose wisely how to fill our hearts.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/rock-roll-hall-of-fame-snubs/

[2] Lee, Marc (9 August 2006). “How Howard changed his tune”. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 February 2016.

[3] Christgau, Robert (12 June 1984). “Christgau’s Consumer Guide: Turkey Shoot”. The Village Voice (New York City, USA). Retrieved 5 February 2016.

[4] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/pardon-me/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-king-and-a-priest-in-the-kingdom-of-god/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Experience Hasn’t Set You Free

  1. Pingback: You Never Know Just How To Look Through Other People’s Eyes | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: You Have Watched Me Safe In Your Anonymity | Edge Induced Cohesion

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