Friday, November 6, 2009

Rumors a/k/a Wishful Thinking

A friend recently gave me a draft of a poem about rumors. A rumor is the result of egos working, trying to lift up someone by pulling down someone else.

I've fortuitously found myself reading something else right on point, Kafka's "The Castle." The novel is a story of a village and a nearby castle that exists -- more than that, depends -- on rumors. Everything the reader knows about the castle comes from village gossip. At times, one wonders if the castle exists.

About three-fifths of the way through this book, Olga tells the main character of the novel, known only as K, why the village shuns her family. At first, we're led to believe Olga's sister, Amalia, is the reason. An official of the castle noticed Amalia at a village celebration and, as castle officials tended to do when they desired female attention, summoned Amalia by sending a letter via messenger. Amalia read the letter, not the least bit loving or considerate in nature, and tore it up in the face of the messenger. This was not how village girls were supposed to behave.

The villagers dropped by Amalia's home, in effect, to say goodbye. Each one retrieved any shoes left for repairs with Amalia's father, the cobbler, paid any debt owed to the father, and henceforth made no contact with the family.

Olga's (extended and aggravating) story suggests that her family perpetrated its continuing situation. According to Olga, the village would have "forgotten" the incident if the family had proceeded to act as if its supposed affront to the castle had been resolved. Instead, the father took as his mission a quest for Amalia's forgiveness, losing his health and sanity in the process. His pursuit of the castle's pardon hit a wall because the castle hadn't accused him or Amalia or his family of anything, so there was nothing to pardon. His co-dependent family sold almost everything they owned to support his hopeless, worthless quest.

Here we are, a hundred years later, continuing the tradition of Amalia's family. Think of the time we waste guessing what others are thinking. Marriages often fall apart -- Virginia's may have -- because spouses assume they know what the other one thinks. I'd bet many marriages are founded on a betrothed's fear of what x, y and z would think if the wedding were canceled. Family feuds thrive for years based on an incident interpreted differently by one another. Friends and acquaintances lose contact because someone thought this and that and no one bothered to check the facts.

Why do we do this to ourselves and each other? Because "I" am the most important. We like to think others think about us. We like to imagine what they think about us. In a long-winded way, Eckhart Tolle focuses on this in his book, "A New Earth." We'd be much better off if each of us recognized when the "ego" is talking and laughed it away.

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