This article by my colleague Steven Weiner, on a subject crucial for men and women alike, discusses D.H. Lawrence’s novel Sons and Lovers.
Because Aesthetic Realism shows what kindness is, the real thing, men can learn, as I know from my own happy life, how to use our minds and our bodies to be kind in every aspect of our lives, including love.
In his lecture, Mind and Kindness, Eli Siegel explains:
The only kindness, as Aesthetic Realism sees it, that exists, is the desire for the other person to be more complete, more organized, stronger, more himself. All other kindness is fake.
I’ve learned that wanting another person to be “stronger” and “more complete” means encouraging that person to like the world, and to care truly for people and things. This, Aesthetic Realism shows, is the deepest desire of every person; the thing we were born to do.
And while men hope to be kind, so much of the time we feel we aren’t. Every man needs to understand the terrific hindrance to kindness in ourselves. It is the desire for contempt, “the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.” Contempt, because it is based on the hope that other people are weaker so that we can be superior and look down on them, is the greatest opponent to kindness.
I. My Notion of Kindness Changed
As I grew up in Brooklyn, there was a desire in me to be kind. For instance, I got pleasure tutoring children in an after-school center. Also, one summer as I worked as a counselor, there was a young girl, Yvonne, who was very frightened of the ocean, and I wanted her to be less afraid. Over a period of weeks, we spoke about way the water was friendlier than she thought, and one day she was very proud as she went in and splashed around with some ease.
But mostly how I saw kindness was very different. In his lecture Mr. Siegel says: “Persons will be “kind” not because they feel it is good to be for the strength of another, but because it is political to do so.”
Beginning with my family, I was a little politician. For example, I would help my twin brother, Paul, with his homework. But if I had a disagreement with our older brother, Fred, I would give Paul a look that said “Don’t you forget how much I’ve done for you,” and Paul would almost always take my side, whether I was right or wrong. I also used doing things for other people, such as going out of my way for a neighbor or friend, to feel noble and sacrificial, and superior to all the selfish people I knew. But with all my seeming “kindness,” I felt I was selfish and cold. Years later, when I was asked in one of my first Aesthetic Realism consultations, “Is there anyone in this world you feel you’ve had a good effect on–the effect you’re hoping to have?”
I answered “No” right away. And they asked: “How much of your personality have you based on feeling different from other people?”
“At least 75%,” I said. My answer, I was so surprised to learn, had much to do with why I felt I wasn’t kind.
Writes Mr. Siegel: “A person is kind who feels a sense of likeness to other things; who accepts accurately his relation to other things.”
There were two big ways I was driven to prove how unlike I was from other people: 1) No one suffered as much as I did; and 2) I was better than everyone–smarter and handsomer.
In another consultation I was asked questions to have me see that despite my feeling of tall, lonely distinction, I had a lot in common with other people, including, “Did you ever feel, ‘Nobody understands me’? Do you think your father ever felt that?” and about a friend, “Is he worried, like you can be, that his heart is too cold?”
And I was given the assignment to write how I was the same and different from ten people I knew. As I did, and as I had conversations with people about their families and friends, their experiences, things they cared for, their hopes–I began to have, which made for a great sense of relief, a new, warm feeling that I was related to other human beings! My thoughts became kinder and deeper, and I really enjoyed thinking about what another person felt, and saw that it added to me, made me more!
II. Kindness and Unkindness in a Novel of 1913
D.H. Lawrence’s novel Sons and Lovers is important because it vividly shows the bad effect one man has on other people and himself through the unkind way he uses his mind and body. This man is Paul Morel whom Lawrence based on his own life.
In The Right Of, Mr. Siegel places Lawrence as a prominent chronicler of unkindness when he writes:
The works of D.H. Lawrence constitute an epic on the sufferings men and women have caused in each other…the manifoldness of the descriptions by Lawrence of what a woman endures from a man or a man from a woman, has not been equaled in these decades. All in all, Lawrence was rather despairing about the possibility of man’s really pleasing woman or of her pleasing him.
Sons and Lovers takes place in a mining town in England in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As the novel begins, we see unkindness right away between Paul’s father, Walter, a coal miner since the age of ten, and his mother, Gertrude. Each is bitterly disappointed in the other: Mrs. Morel is very angry at her husband for spending money the family needs on alcohol, and Mr. Morel is hurt by his wife’s sarcasm and turning their four children, including Paul, against him. Lawrence makes it clear that Paul uses the excessive approval Mrs. Morel gives him to be unkind, including later with women.
Lawrence describes powerfully Paul’s meanness to his father, including his praying for Mr. Morel to die. And the author gives instances of what Mr. Siegel explains in The Right Of: “It is difficult to be kind, and it is difficult to take kindness….Many people resent [kindness.] One way of showing resentment is by trying to make the kindness less.”
When Paul is sick in bed, his father comes to him and asks:
“Are you asleep, my darlin’?”
“No; is my mother comin’?”
“She’s just finishin’ foldin’ the clothes. Do you want anything?”
“I don’t want nothing.”
[His father] loitered about indefinitely. At last [he]…said softly: “Good night, my darling.”
“Good night,” Paul replied, turning around in relief to be alone.
Like Paul, I regret that I was once determined to be angry with my father, and when he showed me kindness, I was often ill-at-ease and ungrateful. In a discussion in a class many years ago, Mr. Siegel asked me: “Do you think there is anything greater in you than your desire to be bitter (with your father)?”
It affected me to learn that as an adult Lawrence came to feel he had been unfair to his father. I believe this made it possible for him, as novelist, to have some of that kindness which Mr. Siegel explains comes from “the imagination arising from the knowledge of feelings had by others” that Lawrence clearly did not have as a child.
For instance, Lawrence describes in a moving passage the feelings of his father as a young man meeting his future wife for the first time. What he does here is similar to what a person having Aesthetic Realism consultations is encouraged to do as a means of seeing a mother or father more deeply, to write a soliloquy of a parent at the age of eighteen. Lawrence writes:
When [Gertrude] was twenty-three years old, she met at a Christmas party, Walter Morel who had that rare thing, a rich, ringing laugh. He was so full of color and animation. He was so ready and pleasant with everybody. She was to the miner that thing of mystery and fascination, a lady. She thought him rather wonderful, never having met anyone like him.
A place I think Lawrence could have gone deeper is that, as he presents the suffering of people, especially that of Mrs. Morel, he does not show sufficiently that a person is against himself or herself for their own unkindness. In Mind and Kindness, Mr. Siegel writes: “Any person who isn’t kind, in the real sense of the word, is a person who is hurting himself.”
III. How Complete Do We Want our Relation to Another Person to Be?
At the age of sixteen, Paul meets Miriam Leivers. Miriam, who must spend most of her time doing drudgery work on her family’s farm, wants so much to be educated. She is very affected by Paul because, in an important way, he wants her to be “stronger…more complete”: he offers to teach her French and algebra. And for Paul, Lawrence writes, “there was…the most intense pleasure in talking with Miriam” about his hope to become an artist.
But as much as Paul likes Miriam, he doesn’t know, as men haven’t, that there is that in him which is against a woman’s meaning a great deal to him, and this stops him from being kind.
In The Right Of, Mr. Siegel explains that kindness is always a relation of being affected and affecting as deeply as possible: “Kindness, in human terms, is the acceptance of a relation with other selves and the wishing to make that relation as complete and as right as possible.”
But Paul is not for a “complete” relation with Miriam; he does not want to be affected by her as much as he can be, and this makes him mean. Lawrence writes:
If [Paul] brought his sketch-book, it was [Miriam] who pondered longest over the last picture. Then she would look up at him. Suddenly, her dark eyes alight like water [and] she would ask: ‘Why do I like this so?’ Always something in his breast shrank from these close, intimate, dazzled looks of hers.
Men need to learn, as I have, about the thing in them against having their relation with a woman “as complete and as right as possible.” Aesthetic Realism taught me that how a man is as to a woman is directly affected by how he sees the whole world, how much he wants to be affected by and like it.
Once, in a class, I told of how much I was moved by a woman’s kindness and desire to strengthen me, and felt tremendously impelled towards her. At the same time, I said I was troubled because in the midst of being ever intimate, something would occur too quickly on my part. With the greatest respect, Chairman of Education Ellen Reiss asked me questions to have me understand myself:
ER: Do you have a fight between wanting to honor what is not you or honor only yourself?
“I do,” I said. And she explained: “It is a fight between love of self and love of the world. How steadily do you think a person outside yourself deserves your [care]? “
SW: I’m seeing where I’m against that.
Ms. Reiss continued: “Do you think a picture of yourself as tremendously devoted to the meaning of another person is a proud picture or a shameful picture?”
SW: I’m not sure.
ER: Do you have a certain notion of your dignity that is not in keeping with feeling that a woman, who stands for the meaning of the world, should do a great deal to you and not just for a moment?
I thank Ms. Reiss for her kindness. Through this discussion, I saw in a way that made for a very big and permanent change in me–that the deeper my thoughts are about a woman, the more I want to be affected by her and the world itself, the stronger, more passionate, dignified and substantial I feel. And I am kinder.
IV. The Desire to Possess: The Great Enemy to Kindness in Love
In the novel, we learn that after seeing each other for a number of years, Paul breaks off with Miriam. When he does, Miriam says to him: “It has been one long battle between us.…It has always been you fighting me off.”
“Love should be attended by kindness,” writes Eli Siegel.
The idea is to put together the utmost in carnality, the utmost in fleshly ecstasy, with the utmost good will or kindness. If that isn’t done, then love is used against oneself. The purpose of a fleshly height or a tremendously ecstatic depth is to honor the cause of it, to be kind to the cause of it. Most often love goes along with a known or unknown cruelty; and then, the sex is bad.
As the story continues, Paul begins to see Clara Dawes. He is very much taken by her beauty and worldliness, and soon, there comes to be intense closeness between them. But Paul makes two huge mistakes men have made for centuries, and are making right now. The first is that he does not use sex to “honor” or “be kind” to the “cause” of sex which is the world itself, but to obliterate it. Lawrence tells of how as Paul is close to Clara “thought went [away]” and he “became, not a man with a mind, but a great instinct.”
The second mistake is that Paul feels, because Clara has given her body to him, that he has her and can treat her as he pleases. He says to her: “The night is free to you. In the daytime I want to be by myself…”
And Lawrence writes: “[Paul] forgot [Clara] a good deal. He was…short and offhand to her. When she talked, he often didn’t listen.”
At a time in my life when I was angry and hurt because a woman, Tina Sims, had become cool to me after we had been close, Eli Siegel spoke to me in a class. What I learned in this discussion is what every man now holding a woman in his arms needs to know, including D.H. Lawrence who suffered greatly in love. Mr. Siegel said to me:
Girls have felt [about men], ‘Let him touch my fingertips but not beyond.’ If you were Ms. Sims, would you be cautious with Steven Weiner because you felt that if you were somewhat gracious, he would take advantage of it?
SW: Yes…that’s what I’ve done.
ES: That is the tendency of man. As soon as a girl is nice to him, he cheapens her. Possession in love always cheapens the thing possessed. The more you have a thing the more you should appreciate it. [And he asked me:] Do you feel anything that you can have is at that moment given less value?
SW: Yes, I do.
ES: To undervalue has all the bad possibilities of life.
Then Mr. Siegel read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129 and pointed to a line that described poetically the unkindest thing in a man: “Enjoy’d no sooner, but despised straight.”
I thank Mr. Siegel for criticizing my contempt, my desire to own a woman that was ruining any chance for true and lasting love in my life. He made it possible for me to change, and gave kindness a chance to win in me.
As the novel ends, Lawrence shows vividly the repulsion Paul’s unkindness has made for in Clara. He writes that: “[Clara] was afraid of [Paul….He was] somebody sinister, [he] filled her with horror.…It was almost as if he were a criminal.” And we see too how much Paul has hurt and weakened his own life: he is so ashamed of his bad effect that he makes plans to leave England. It means so much to me that this kind of desolation was not my fate.
Every man in America has the right to know that the resounding answer to the question of our seminar “Mind and Body: Can a Man Use Both to Be Kind?” is Yes!