From the moment the alarm goes off in the morning and throughout the day, men are in a fight: do we hope to be honestly good natured—even when things get tough? Or will we leap to be angry when something doesn’t go our way?
If asked, many people would say that good nature, while pleasant, isn’t a necessity. And usually it’s not seen as very smart. That’s because what good nature really is, hasn’t been understood. In Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, good nature is defined as “of a pleasant, cheerful, cooperative disposition.” This sounds like good nature is superficial. However Aesthetic Realism, founded by Eli Siegel, the great American poet and educator, explains that authentic good nature is the result of a person's using his keenest critical faculties; it arises from accurate, intellectual perception; and it is, in fact, the height of intelligence. This paper is about why this is so and why it is of the utmost importance that people know it.
Aesthetic Realism is based on these principles, stated by Mr. Siegel:
One, Everyone's greatest, deepest desire is to like the world honestly. Two, The one way to like the world honestly, not as a conquest of one's own, is to see the world aesthetically: as the oneness of such opposites as order and freedom, difference and sameness. Three, the greatest danger or temptation is to get a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not oneself, which lessening is contempt.
Writing about contempt, Ellen Reiss, the chairperson of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation's education department, describes how ill nature comes from it:
As people wonder why on earth they’re so testy, grumpy, sullen, they don’t see that it’s because they get something out of it. They don’t see they have a hope to feel the outside world is an annoyance; objects and happenings are interferences; people are crude, stupid, and mean — because if reality is not good enough for them, it means they are superior. They’re royalty in an unworthy world....Meanwhile there is art, which may describe ill nature, but which never has it....Art comes from the tremendous desire see value in the world, to show relaity as having meaning and form....The art feeling, then, is the contrary of irritable, grouchy feeling. Art is always the truest good nature. [The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, no. 1617]
We have seen definitely: As a man learns how to be a critic of contempt, including in himself, and studies what it means to have the art purpose in his life, his ill nature changes into valuable perception. As a result, he respects himself, is truly kinder, and much more intelligent. We can't think of anything more vital for people to know—for personal life to be sensible and for our world to be safe.
Note: When Aesthetic Realism consultations are quoted, the name of the man having the consultation was changed for public presentation.
Good Nature & Ill Nature in a Man:
What Are They & Which Is Intelligent?
Whether I’m good natured or ill natured affects me every day, and each day I hope I’ll do a better job. This isn’t a sewed-up, “signed, sealed and delivered” matter. It takes thought, and it concerns how one wants to see the world as a whole.
Good nature and ill nature have to do with everyone. Commenting once on the central place of aesthetics in cultures worldwide, Eli Siegel said that two opposites all people want to make sense of are: being pleased and being angry. Good nature is the hope to be honestly pleased, while ill nature is a disposition to be angry no matter what. Good nature and ill nature are essentially equivalent to good will and ill will. Good will embodies what Mr. Siegel described as "the hope to see the world as friendly even when that seeing, as it often is, is difficult." [The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, no. 12] This is the same as being a good critic, being intelligent—not at all being gushy, gullible, or easily taken advantage of.
While I once had a reputation for being overly polite, inside I was whiplash angry at people and scornful of them. “It’s hard to believe this of such a calm being,” Mr. Siegel said about me in an Aesthetic Realism class, “but he has been Furnace Perey.” He asked if I had “overburning thoughts.” I said I did.
Being ill natured — and disposed to defend oneself even against imaginary enemies — is not exact and therefore isn’t intelligent. It’s impelled by contempt, which, Aesthetic Realism states, is "an unintermitting counteroffensive to an uncaring world." [Self and World, Eli Siegel: 1981, p. 10.] That is, we may see the world as uncaring because we prefer to. That is why ill nature is not so smart.
[SLIDE 1] We’re looking at the first of 3 slides of a Charles Addams cartoon. On the left a good little boy is playing with his chemistry set, making a mixture in a little beaker out of which comes a plume of white vapor. His hair is slicked down, his eyes are bright, and his smiling face is innocent and round. In the picture on the right he drinks from the beaker. His hair begins to get spiky and his ear is developing a point. Tufts of hair come out on his arm.
[SLIDE 2] On the left the boy’s innocent smile and button eyes have changed and become monstrous. He is now a swollen being stomping around. But in the panel on the right this young “thing of darkness” hears the footsteps of someone coming and we see dismay on the misshapen features. Quickly—
[SLIDE 3] —he drinks from the beaker again, and when his mother looks in he is once more an innocent child enjoying an educational toy-–a child which any mother could be proud of.
We see two selves—a pleased self and a bloated self looking to do mischief. And this did remind me of how I could be in my room in Mount Vernon doing various interesting projects, and fuming inside, while my mother would beam at me approvingly.
Why this happens, why we have two diametrically opposed dispositions has been a mystery for ages. An ancient Roman belief was that ill nature came upon you when Mars, the god of war, imbued you with wrath. The Middle Ages saw ill nature as a “choleric disposition,” caused by a superabundance of a humour or fluid in a person: that is, yellow bile. Academic psychology today also has not been up to explaining why a person has good or ill nature.
Aesthetic Realism has shown the underlying reason whether a man is run by irascibility or by a disposition to be pleased is whether he hopes to see the world with respect or contempt. Whether Rick Bailey of New Jersey, about whom I will soon speak, or myself, Arnold Perey of New York, are testy and insufferable, or are people hoping to be pleased and kind, depends on how we see the world. Aesthetic Realism brings the logic of cause and effect to feelings that have been unexplained for ages.
I. Is Good Nature Intelligent?
There is a tendency to feel good nature is unintelligent, and I had it. People feel if they are pleased and like things they are weak saps. Smart is when you’re fighting the world and putting other people down — because “if I don’t do it to him first, he’ll take advantage of me.”
In an Aesthetic Realism lesson, Eli Siegel spoke to me about my disposition to be angry—displeased with the world and people. The circumstances were these: After nearly a year, I was getting into constant verbal fights with my girlfriend, Janet. Although she was a pretty woman, she would appear to change in my eyes and look distorted and unattractive. I knew somewhere that my visual perception was impelled by something in me, but I also tried to justify myself. I admired her mind and her active social conscience; but I also felt she wanted to capture me, get me to marry her, while I was still unsure. In today’s terms I had a “phobia about committing.”
In the lesson Mr. Siegel explained (3/2/69, pp. 1-3), "Two people try to care for each other, both who think that anger is awfully important." And he asked me, “Do you think you need to be angry?”
AP Yes, sometimes.
ES Not sometimes, always.
ES This is a constant need. It shows itself just as people need to eat always, but they eat only three meals a day.
AP I think that I feel I can be taken advantage of...
ES Well, I'll try to explain this somewhat in mathematical terms. There are two ways of feeling you're a success in life. One is by agreeing with [things], and saying, "Oh, what a beautiful world!” The other is something different—that the world has misled you, betrayed you, has been unjust to you. The question is, is it so?
That question, “Is it so?” is crucial. There are things to be angry with, but do we want to be exact? I was beginning to learn that my desire to be angry, to dislike people, and find things to yell at, to be on a superior roll, was not based on all the facts, but came from a purpose I had. Mr. Siegel asked: “Do you feel right now that you're angry?”
ES All right, why? Do you think it's all because of what has occurred [to you], or do you believe there was a previous desire?
AP There was a previous desire, all right.
ES It’s like taking a trolley in Philadelphia. On the one hand you want to take a trolley, and on the other there is a trolley to take. (Well, there used to be.) Do you think you need to have anger in order to restore yourself?
ES The world gives one the right or the possibility to be displeased by it; then it's for you to see when you want to use it and how much.
I learned that this is where being a critic with good will comes in. Mr. Siegel said:
We get down to this matter: that it's possible for persons to see the world in not such a good way and to see persons in also not such a good way. So, would you say that the way you see Janet K. is intelligent?
Intelligence is defined by Aesthetic Realism as the ability of a self to become at one with the new . And to become at one with the new begins with wanting to know and be pleased by it.
When I began courting Barbara Allen, I was very much afraid that the way I had gone from approving of a woman very much to glowering and finding fault after fault, would happen again. I can hardly say how grateful I am that the education I’ve received, and continue to, has enabled me to be much better natured and more intelligent. In a class some months after Barbara and I were married, Mr. Siegel encouraged me as a new husband to put together for and against, being pleased and questioning. He said, “When you are critical of Miss Allen you should remember at the same time your tenderest moment.” And once when I met Mr. Siegel on the street—it was as the sun was setting—he said, “My hope for you in your marriage is that you are as passionate as that” — and he pointed to the red-orange sun — “and cool as that” — pointing northeast to the blue sky. This idea is precious to me. It has made me a better husband these 29 happy years. I love Barbara passionately, knowing her makes me in a daily way smarter and much better natured.
II. The World’s Folk Literature Agrees, Ill Nature Is Unintelligent
I now give two instances. The first is a story from Lesotho, a country near the southern tip of Africa. It was translated and told by Minnie Postma, one of the best African storytellers I know. It is about Tortoise, an ill-natured being who is trying to hunt for food, without success. The Dove is on a branch sympathetically watching him, and sings: "Coor-coor, coor-coor" "Tortoise, big man," she says, "why don't you go to the other side of the river? I fly there every day, and there is plenty of food."
"Keep quiet, woman," he shouted. "How can that food help me if there is a stream of water between me and the food?"
Meanwhile, Tortoise's ill-nature, understandable in a world that seems so barren, prevents him from seeing what can be of use to him. As Dove tries to help him, he sarcastically demolishes her proposals one after another. At last Dove suggests a way that might really work:
"Tortoise," she said. "Find a dry stick, and bite on one end.”
"I don't eat sticks, Mother," said Tortoise sadly.
"It is not for you to eat," said Dove. "I will take the other end of the stick in my mouth and fly over the water with you....But you must not talk to Fish if he rises from the water to talk to you."
"No, I will not," Tortoise promised.
....Dove flew out over the water, and Tortose hung below her on the other end of the stick.
Au but that was a strange business. Fish...was astonished. ... "You, fellow," said Fish, with his mouth full of water, "I never knew that you could fly! If I did not see this with my own eyes, I would not believe it!"
Tortoise became angry with Fish. "What do you think?" he asked. "And why should I not be able to fly?" But before he could finish speaking he fell twaah! right into the water. He had let go of the stick when he argued with fish.
In a humorous way, we see the deep feeling in people of Africa that ill nature is not intelligent.
And in the Jataka tales from India, thousands of miles away,and dated about 500 BC, a simlilar tortoise, with a “tiny anger-fire” in his heart, makes the identical mistake in mid-air and falls. Ill nature is presented as self-sabotage there too.
At this moment somewhere in New York a man is telling a woman, “Don’t help me! I can do it myself!” He feels insulted, wrongly. And the same ill nature caused a person high in government today to make a decision that will harm thousands of people.
Now we go to the second story, from Europe, which is more evidence for a deep feeling all over the world that ill nature is stupid: “The Gallant Tailor,” from the Brothers Grimm, has two giants, who did great damage by robbery, murder, and fire.
These giants are an embodiment of ill nature pure. They represent the desire—which is in everyone—to annihilate the meaning of other people. Splenetic giants are in many stories, including Homer’s Odyssey — with the Cyclops. But are they intelligent?
The little tailor finds the giants “under a tree asleep and snoring.” He climbs the tree after filling his pockets with stones, and let one stone after another fall on the chest of one of the giants [who] at last waked up and pushed his comrade and said, “What are you hitting me for?”
“Are you dreaming?” said the other. “I am not touching you.” And they composed themselves again to sleep, and the tailor let fall a stone on the other giant.
“What can that be?” cried he. “What are you casting at me?”
“I am casting nothing at you,” answered the first, grumbling.
Finally, the tailor drops one more big stone on the first giant, and both giants, whose desire to understand is very limited and whose desire to be angry is very great, get revenge on each other for something neither of them did.
They fought with such fury that they tore up trees by their roots to use for weapons against each other, so that at last both of them lay dead upon the ground. And now the little tailor got down.
And he is safe! Ill nature proves to be unintelligent. And the Gallant Tailor, who is a good-natured chap, proves to be not only more intelligent but more powerful than giants.
III. This Has a Terrific Meaning for Men Now
Aesthetic Realism consultations provide the understanding of contempt from which ill nature arises, and encourage a person to be accurate about the world and people.
Rick Bailey, a science teacher, has charm. Women have been affected by is large brown eyes. He has shown such a sunny disposition that anything else comes as a surprise to people. He loves music and has had very good times dancing with his wife, Meredith. He wants to be generous and is not stingy with praise of her. When he speaks about their early conversations, at the nonprofit construction site where they both were volunteer workers, you feel he wants to throw his arms out and embrace humanity.
But Mr. Bailey also has acted like a generalissimo — the “executive approach to marriage” he’s called it, satirically. He has often barked orders at people, feeling he’s the smart one and that people need him to be strong, to get into shape and organized.
For example, when his son continually came very late to the car to go on family outings, rather than ask what Patrick felt, Mr. Bailey was offended and set forth an ultimatum, “You’re either on time or you get left behind.” He wrote in a document for consultations: “I have gotten extremely angry at the way people have treated me with disrespect.” Behind it all was the feeling that Mr. Siegel gave form to in a class when he asked me to read out loud this quote from a soliloquy of Hamlet:
The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
Mr. Bailey told us of his former wife and his tendency to feel taken advantage of by her even as he was trying to run her life — set it right—at a distance: faulting her on dirty fingernails he’d see on their child, snapping that she didn’t return his calls promptly enough, wanting to inspect the books of her household expenses. He cultivated resentments he felt long ago while he was growing up. Through questions, he began to see what Mr. Siegel had taught me: that there was a hope in him to be angry, and it is not wise. He wrote: “I’ve seen that I have wanted to get the goods on my father in order to justify anger.”
Rick Bailey has had good nature in questioning his own ill nature. He told us that through his Aesthetic Realism studies he’d seen definitely that he hadn’t wanted to understand his former wife, who objected to his authoritarian ways. She had given him a chance to be different, “But I didn’t listen,” he said. Now he wanted to be a husband he could be proud of, have good will for Meredith as a steady thing. He was determined not to undermine this marriage and his relation with his son. Meanwhile, he found himself steaming up with her, and didn’t understand why. We asked him:
Con Do you think you need to be angry to feel you’re still Rick Bailey?
RB Yes, I’m afraid I do.
He told us he and Meredith had had a very good time at an outing, and then later at home got into an argument. “Did you feel that in enjoying yourself you were getting soft, giving in to the enemy — the outside world?”
RB You know, I think that was going on.
Meanwhile, he told us he was irritated with Meredith because she tries to manage too many things, get things into shape, including him. He said, “She wants to make everything neat and orderly,” he said, “including all the of twigs on the grounds around our home.” We asked him to think about whether she wants to make order out of thoughts in herself she feels are too disorderly. And to encourage him to put together his severity and gentleness in a good natured way, we suggested an assignment to “Write where Meredith Bailey is unsure of herself.”
The Baileys have a very fortunate marriage. Where the sweetness they felt toward one another could so easily have changed to ill nature and mutual recrimination, they are caring for one another more and more. Aesthetic Realism is so right: good nature is the same as intelligence.
This knowledge has made the difference to each of us giving this seminar between happiness and lives described by Emerson in his famous sentence, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." It is an honor to speak tonight about what we learned that changed it.
Eli Siegel, Definitions, and Comment. The definition of Intelligence is in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, no. 310.
“Tortoise and Dove,” Tales from the Basotho, Minnie Postma, translated from the Africaans by Susie McDermid. American Folklore Society, Memoir Series, Vol 59. University of Texas, Austin & London: 1974. Pp. 50-2.
“The Tortoise and the Geese,” Twenty Jataka Tales, Inner Traditions International, Rochester, Vermont: 1975. Pp. 41-3.
“The Gallant Tailor,” Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Grosset & Dunlap, New York: 1945. Pp. 196-7.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 1, sc. 5.