Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Believe It

We had an excellent group session with our Tuesday artists last night. The discussion moved right down into a difficult but vital--and very Buddhist--concern with form, form and abstraction, form and meaning, form and emptiness. What made it useful and intelligible was the fact that it all came out of the lived experience of working artists, not out of some abstract world of concept.

Afterwards, to relax, I found myself watching a PBS "American Experience" episode about the Navajo/Puerto Rican dancer Soto Jock Soto. Born on the Navajo reservation in the American Southwest, he seemed like an unlikely candidate for the ballet world of New York City; he made his way there through sheer pluck and determination, and the conviction from the earliest age that this was what he was supposed to do with his life. I was particularly struck by one of the things he said, as a mature dancer, on the point of retirement from the stage (and I may be paraphrasing here, slightly): You have to believe what you're doing. If you don't believe, no one else is going to believe it either.

It's something that I have always thought necessary for a writer, and Soto's words came at a moment when I had been thinking precisely those words earlier in the day, watching (snatches only: I didn't have time for the whole thing) the testimony of Gen. Petreaus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The general, for the most part, seemed to play his cards with a certain measure of honesty: I believed in his integrity--even if I disagreed with what he was saying.

With Crocker, it was quite different. I don't think he believed for a moment what he was saying. He was saying it because his job required him to. The result was a monotone drone, a long series of careful circumlocutions, words built upon words without meaning or conviction. I thought it was a dreadful performance. Ellie described it as "boring." True enough. But I thought it boring precisely because it came from a place of fundamental dishonesty, a refusal to speak the truth about Iraq, the war, the Iraqi politicians, the endless need for American involvement to keep a lid on the seething mess we have created there. (This, clearly, from the point of view of one who watched only very few minutes of the whole debate.)

Back to Buddhism, then: Right Speech means speaking out of integrity, believing what you're saying, telling the truth. In a word, speaking from the heart.


roger said...

very nice analysis of the two styles. i MOSTLY agree. i think the general fudged a bit also, but not near so much as the diplomat.

isn't diplomacy described somewhere as the art of lying tactfully? well, it should be. IMHO AND LOL.

roger said...

oops. sorry about the caps on "mostly". i certainly did not intend to emphasize it. dang caps lock anyway. i don't even use caps.

i did learn, however, that the word verification works with caps.

thailandchani said...

Very true... all of it! Especially the part about speaking from integrity.. from the heart. Luckily, I don't expect it from government types. :)

robin andrea said...

You once wrote a while back about how difficult it would be for a Buddhist to become President. Imagine what the hearings would have sounded like if everyone was Buddhist. Would there even be a need for hearings? What would the world sound like if everyone spoke Right Speech? That's the world I have always wanted to live in.

August said...

One can always feel when someone speaks with integrity & conviction...

Soto is new to me. I shall try to remember his words next time I belittle myself.

What a schedule you juggle, Peter. I wonder how you do it all.