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   When I was a child, I unquestioningly took on the values, likes, and aversions of my parents and my family.  Took on their perception of the world and their response to it and modeled their place in it, as all children do.  When I was an adolescent, I struggled against this modeling, as all adolescents do -- feeling somehow suffocatingly chained and bound by it, I searched for my own way, without being able to say this was what I was doing.

    Thrashing to get free from my childhood assumptions, I experimented here and there, willy-nilly, left and right, forward and backward, without much conscious thought or strategy.  I didn't know who I was, where I was going, why I was here, and I certainly didn't have the skills to become more conscious of how to approach these things.  I had virtually no training in learning how to listen to myself, learn from myself, investigate and pursue my own values and interests. 

    Although I was trained very well in how to argue a fine intellectual point (about a book written 50 years ago) across a round classroom table, I could not think for myself about any point in my own life.  Although I could graph y = 2(x +b) where b is greater than 3 and less than 5 in PEN, I could not chart the possibilities of my own future.  Although I could dissect a fruit fly with the utmost precision, I could not even see the color of my own eyes.  Although I could run a charge to a metal plate suspended in salt water to demonstrate electrolytic transfer, I could not connect to the pulses of my own heart. 

    I think this was perhaps because, in my early training, I was not taught to listen to myself.  My uniqueness/differentness was not something to appreciate.  Neither was anyone else's.  My experience of life had been far more constructed around which group I belonged to, which people I had similarities with, than an appreciation for both my uniqueness and others' differentness.  At home, at school, and in other groups, a US/THEM mentality ruled.   Those who were educated, those who were not.  Those who intelligent, charming, outgoing, those who were not.  Those who read poetry, those who did not.  Those who were politically involved, those who were not.  Those who were professionals, those who were not.   Those who were white, those who were not. Those who were recognized by the press, those who were not.  Those who used good grammar, those who did not.  Those who had ideas, intellectualism, philosophy, those who did not.  Those who were academic, those who were not.  So I spent most of my time trying to figure out which group I could fit in to, and having judgmental blinders on about everybody else, including myself.

    When I was a college senior, I was put in a housing group with 10 rabid vegetarians, committed environmentalists, spiritualists, and peace niks.  It was an intense household, and our daily lives were closely entwined simply because of our proximity in the house.  We all took classes from the same "alternative" professors, professors who provided a "different" point of
view, professors who had a cause to transmit and a world to save.  Amidst the melting soy cheese of our nightly communal dinners, my personal philosophy was born, shaped, and reached fruition.  It was a philosophy that did not vary too extremely much from those of my parents and my boyfriend's parents, but it was different enough to be called my own.  For the first time in my personal life, everything came together, united on all fronts by an overarching intellectual edifice. 

    Thus was an idealist born.  Someone said to me recently that all young people in their twenties should be idealists.  Perhaps.  But was that me, the form that idealism took?  Did it reflect who I uniquely/differently was?  I don't think so.  I think it was idealism for idealism's sake alone.  A valuing of ideas and philosophies, whatever they were, over reality, over people in real life.   A valuing of actions solely because they corresponded to a vision of a pure world, a good world, an ideal world, and not because
they corresponded to the real people who inhabit the real world (including myself).
    I do my food shopping in Montpelier, where the young people who look like people from The Community hang out.  They're young.  They wear those long ripped pants and their hair in dreadlocks.  I remember what it was like to feel like them, less than a year ago.  They're so pure.  They're so New Age.  They're so right.  They're so full of ideals.  Good ideals.  Ideals that could save the world, if only people would listen.

    For me, $Y and The Community were the endpoint in that search for philosophy, for ideas, for ideals.  They were the ultimate in idealism, the ultimate in a pure truth.  To follow their dictates was to purely follow a life of the mind, of ideals.  It was the purest expression of how to mold everyday life, society, and all people into one, unified, perfect doctrine, filled with nothing but peace and goodness for all.

    Since leaving, I have been unable to look outside myself for a philosophy, no matter how attractive, how pure, how ideal, how visionary.  The idea of taking one more super blue green algae tablet as a cure-all no longer attracts me.   In many ways I was let down by philosophy, by ideals and idealism.  I came to see to what end they could be taken, what horrors they could produce, in what ways they could be twisted.  I saw that they could destroy the very people they were designed to uplift and save, in addition to destroying the people who would not listen to the message.  In fact, some times I see some of my experiences as only one end of an continuum of idealism that has at its other end the Nazi movement, or, more modernly, ethnic cleansing under the Serbs. 
    When one places ideals over people, even for the good of the people, it can lead to terrible horrors.  How are these horrors really different (other than in magnitude) than myself at age 23, marching with upraised fist on Washington?  How are they different from myself at age 25, arguing with venom the importance of vegetarianism?   How are they different from myself at age 28, struggling to get the best seat, not behind a column, in order to see the red robed figure who could save everyone with one glance of grace, knowing that the starving children in Africa just had bad karma?   How is this different from myself at age 31, singing with devotion among the saved few, the women in poverty whose hair was falling out from lack of nutrition, the children who were abused in the basement, but who were not bound for the lake of fire as the rest of the world was (and deserved to be)?

    In striving ever more to be pure in our ideals and philosophies, there comes a point where we must begin to eliminate that (and those) which are not pure, whether it be from our mental/emotional country or our physical country.

    When one places ideals over people, when one takes ideals and philosophies as the guidepost for one's life, the world of people becomes divided into categories.  Those who agree and those who don't.  Those who are like you and those who aren't. Some and Others.  Some are right.  Others are wrong.   Some are pure.  Others are impure.  Some, through right action or right birth, deserve space and enlightenment.  Others deserve their karma, the lake of fire, starvation, or ethnic cleansing.  They lose their individuality and humanity as quickly as I lost my compassion and my sense of relatedness to the race to which I belong -- humankind.  And when people are Others, they are not people anymore.  It is easier to ignore your ignorance of them, your disgust in them, and your harmful actions, whether upraised fist, blissed out trance, or machine gun/gas chamber cleanse.

    When I think back to when, in my life, I ever used my own heart and brain to determine my values and responses to the world, I find the closest approximation to it in those blind struggles as a teenager, or those brief moments of clarity and happiness we experience sometimes as children.  But when I became a card carrying vegetarian, environmentalist, peace nik -- although it was the first time I felt "free" of the childhood influences, although I believed I was finally in possession of a coherent, overarching intellectual philosophy and a set of ideals which could guide me and also (if they would only listen) the rest of the world -- it was also a time when I really first let the idealism of the mind totally speak for me and guide me, and when I really lost a sense of trying to determine what I wanted, just for my own selfish self, just as a unique individual.  Because individuals, people like me, were not as important as the vision, the ideals, the philosophy.

    Since leaving, I have been so amazed by what I can learn and appreciate from people all around me.  Our color and variety is an amazing and precious thing, as amazing and precious as the myriad of thoughts, feelings, that make up who, as a unique individual, I am.  As I have learned to use critical thinking, I have begun to learn for once to use my brain to sort out what is important and valuable to me as a unique individual.  As I have allowed myself to start listening to myself (dare I say, to my heart), instead of to a guru, or group, I have been amazed to discover what a joy it is to listen to not only myself but to other people in their uniqueness/differentness.  The world is not really made up of groups, after all, but of a myriad of unique individual people, never to be repeated, as unique and one of a kind as snowflakes, each one containing a vast treasure of history, feelings, thoughts, and desires.

    But when one values ideas more than people, when one places ideals over people, one opens oneself to charlatans who sexually, mentally, physically, and emotionally abuse and manipulate people in the name of those ideals (oneness with God, world peace, human happiness).  Charlatans who twist, manipulate, and distort those ideals.  One cannot see past one's own ideal nose to the person charlatan in front of one.  One is not used to looking at people and following one's gut intuition, or thinking for oneself.  One sees only one's ideals and rushes toward whoever promises to speed those ideals along to fruition.  One becomes ready to sacrifice whatever is necessary to reach the ideals, even if it means sacrificing the people in whose service the ideals are supposed to exist.  Well, only SOME people. . . .

10 Oct 99