, Salem, MA


March 25, 2014

Watson: There are ways to see more

Last week’s column generated a lot of interest — both publicly and privately expressed. It referred to a novel, “My Name Is Asher Lev,” which told the story of how a father and a son became tragically alienated from one another because of their different world views.

The father was a devout Hasidic Jew, and his young son was growing into a skilled — but norm-challenging — artist. The father was an honorable, admirable man, but he raged disproportionately at what he saw as the unworthiness and profanity of his iconoclastic son.

The novel is a cautionary tale to warn us of the dangers of holding onto our orthodoxies — whatever they may be — too rigidly. Furthermore, we learn those unquestionable beliefs are often a product of powerful personal experiences.

Some readers resisted the idea that everybody has orthodoxies. Others pointed to the ideas of certain groups and said, “They hold onto flawed ideas.” Still others wondered how they could hold their own beliefs in doubt and still speak and act according to them.

Those points and questions are important and timely because their dynamics are critically in play today in the United States and in friction-filled locations across the globe. For it is feuding ideologies, disparate experiences and unyielding orthodoxies that often prevent people from understanding one another. And if we do not comprehend one another, it is easy to not respect each other, and worse.

It is comfortable and extremely easy to let our past experiences and our perspectives blind us and imprison us. How do we prevent that?

The British writer, Doris Lessing, who died last year at age 94, wrote a book, “Prisons We Choose To Live Inside,” that addresses that very question.

First, she makes a convincing case that every one of us — without exception — can exhibit the worst intolerance. Anybody who looks at the full play of human nature throughout history is likely to agree with her.

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