These are the dying words of Kurtz, a central character in the book, whom the narrator finds deep in the heart of Africa; the 1979 film “Apocalypse Now”, starring Marlon Brando as U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz echoes the book in its themes, setting and use of names.
The book and the film are dark, despairing, exhausting — and powerfully unforgettable.
But these two words are resonating in my head much of the time now, thanks to what often seems a global parade of incompetence, greed, conflict, misery and despair.
— The shelling/retaliation between Israel and Gaza
— The epidemic of Ebola spreading through West Africa
— The shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old black man, Michael Brown (only the latest)
— The beheading of fellow freelance journalist James Foley by ISIS
— The New York Times reports that beheadings are now “routine” in Syria
— The nightly newscasts with images of yet another out-of-control wildfire consuming thousands of acres of Western U.S. forests and many people’s homes and businesses
I am also well aware — and would love some new re-definition of “news” to make misery less compelling somehow — that the mass media are utterly complicit here. By the time you, readers and and viewers, see and hear our/their versions of the world, they have been massaged, edited and sometimes bitterly debated.
When we started dating 14 years ago my now-husband drove me nuts with the phrase he still uses, (and which I now just laugh at):
“We could do one of two things”…
I’m sure — Broadside readers being a smart, educated bunch — some of you surely know, and can explain to me, the underpinnings of such a narrow worldview.
It feels these days as though everyone has joined one side of another. Our worldview is binary:
All or nothing.
Black or white.
Right or wrong.
Gay or straight.
Liberal or conservative.
Pro-choice or pro-life.
Gun control advocate or “gun nut” (not my phrase!)
It feels absurdly and, to me increasingly, stupidly, American.
When most of us know, or realize, that life is a hell of a lot more complicated than that. It is shaded and nuanced. And our most firmly and fixed beliefs can change over time.
I had two moments of this recently, both within an hour, one on-line arguing, (and quickly withdrawing from useless online arguments), with some woman I don’t know in a on-line forum, and the other at my local hardware store.
I was struck, hard, by the realization how easy it is to fall into a habit of thinking (why?) in terms of either/or, not both. Exclusion, not inclusion. Narrowing, not expanding, our notions of the possible.
People who speak several languages and/or have lived for long periods outside of their home culture and/or are married to or partnered with someone of a very different background often move beyond this limited thinking because it is challenged every day.
What we consider “normal” is simply normal for us.
The first argument was over work and its relative importance in our lives.
Americans — especially those who have never lived beyond their borders — often feel that working really hard all the time is the single most useful thing to do with one’s life. Being “successful” materially is the classic goal. And a very skimpy social safety net ensures that few can stray far from the grindstone because unless you’re debt-free, rich and/or have a shit-ton of savings, you will soon be broke and homeless and then, missy, you’ll be sorry!
The woman I was arguing with, a manager within my industry, kept positing two poles — marathoner/ambitious/admirable or useless/annoying/slacker. For fucks’ sake.
Very few people love their work every day until they die. If they do, awesome! But making anyone who doesn’t agree feel the same way somehow less than, or imputing slackerdom to their ambivalence, is bullshit.
Some people actually work for the money. Not passion.
For many people — and not simply “slackers” — their true passions and joys lie beyond the workplace: faith, family, travel, volunteer work, pets, and/or creative projects that simply make them, and others, happy.
My second “Duh!” moment happened while trying to buy gray matte-finish paint for our balcony railings. There was only white and black on offer. The sales clerk and I stood there staring at the cans, my frustration growing, his boredom blossoming.
I was pissed there wasn’t exactly what I wanted — when it was right there in front of me for the seeing of it, and making it myself.
Black plus white = gray.
How embarrassing that it took us so long to figure that out. I felt like an utter fool for not noticing that right away. It was a great wake-up call.
Do you find yourself trapped into this way of thinking?
What would it take for you to even consider the value of the other side of an argument?
Thought-provoking post here from Jezebel; (read the comments as well, lots of good stuff in there):
What is a fight anyway? A disagreement, sure, but predicated
on what? Miscommunication typically. Unrealistic expectations. Actions by the
other person that are perceived as selfish or thoughtless or simply not in line
with whatever one person in a relationship thinks are the perceived agreed-upon
values, stated or otherwise, of the relationship.
And a big part of all this confusion is usually this weird concept of
unspoken agreements. Can I just say right here and now that the concept
of unspoken agreements is super baffling? The thing where someone does
something and you’re supposed to know it means X or Y whether they say
so or not and return the thing to them you didn’t know they did in the
first place because it’s all supposed to be understood?
I bet more relationships have ended by failure to mind-read than almost any other crime of the heart.
So it goes without saying that lots of fights could be avoided by talking
more, by improving communication, stating/negotiations and expectations, and by
lowering expectations. But we are mere mortals over here, not Deepak
Chopra. Fights are happening. Deal with it.
Some people go through life (medicated?) never having a fight with anyone, ever. Over anything.
I’d love to be one of them, but it’s highly unlikely.
Jose, my husband, and I have been together 13.5 years. We had our first fight before our first date.
But, once we met, we were together after that first night.
We laugh often and loudly. We wince at the thought of ever losing one another. We’re both stubborn, hard-headed and opinionated. We also love each other deeply.
But we’re not averse to verbal fisticuffs, an issue we struggle with still. We were both badly bullied when were younger and neither of us were trained or socialized to beat the shit out of our tormentors. Instead, we learned to verbally annihilate them. We got really good at that.
And both of us are tough, competitive career journalists, a profession that best rewards aggressive winners, not calm, gentle, cooperation.
We also grew up in completely different emotional environments. His parents never fought (in front of him.) My family yelled a lot. I hated it, but it was what we learned. So taking the gloves off, so to speak, comes too quickly, a habitual behavior that’s tough to break, no matter how essential to do so.
When Jose and I first fought, there was an underlying meta-fight, like gasoline poured into flame, of his disbelief, outrage and shock that we were fighting at all. For me, it was business as usual. It took a long time for me express my needs more calmly.
Like every couple, we also carry ghosts of old hurts, sometimes arguing ferociously not with one another, really, but with an unresolved bit of business from our past.
Everyone in a lasting intimate relationship must find a way to negotiate through conflict.
I really liked this recent post from another blogging Caitlin at Fit & Feminist, which addresses how grouchy and (regretfully) argumentative we can get when we’re really just hungry:
A couple of weeks ago I found myself embroiled in a bit of an interpersonal snafu. I was trying to broach a sensitive subject with care and delicacy, hoping that I could not only get my point across but that I could do so in a way that was diplomatic and fair.
The problem is, I tried to do this while I was hungry. And so instead of being careful and delicate, I struggled to find the right words to convey what I wanted to say, and then finally, I became frustrated and blurted out exactly the wrong words required by the situation.
After I finally got to eat something, I realized what I had done, but it was too late – the damage had been done. And not only that, but the damage had radiated outward in a domino effect of fuckery, and I found
myself spending the next couple of hours engaged in a desperate attempt to put band-aids over all of the social wounds my hunger-fueled carelessness had wrought.
It occurred to me later that if you could go back over the past several years and catalog all of the times I had really stepped in some big piles of shit with other people, then dig deep down to find the underlying causes of it, nine times out of ten your excavation will lead you to an empty, rumbling, pissed-off tummy.
Here’s one of the best songs ever about a remorseful lover (successfully) rushing to the train station to re-claim his sweetie who’s about to leave him after a fight, recorded in 1996 by British singer-songwriter Richard Thompson:
She’s sitting on the train, the train’s gonna to leave
Bags in her hand, tears on her sleeve
Banging on the window with all of my might
But she won’t look to the left or the right
We had a fight and it wasn’t pretty
Now she’s leaving, ain’t it a pity
Going to wait tables, down in the city
Hold that red light one more minute
6:18’s got my baby in it
Train don’t leave, heart don’t break
Train don’t leave, heart don’t break
And here’s a brilliant post from American business guru Seth Godin about the corrosive effects of tantrums at work.
As readers here know, from a recent string of critical comments, I have little stomach for fighting with strangers. Fighting with intimates is stressful enough.
I grew up in a family of people with six-guns for tongues, and it wasn’t a great education. I certainly learned how to shout, rail and rant. I can slam a door with the best of them.
But…resolve conflict? Discuss an issue in a civil tone? Negotiate?
So when Jose and I recently finally had a fight, after wayyyyyy too many weeks of peaceful, loving cooperation, it actually felt a little more normal.
We both agreed it felt a bit more “us” than all the (lovely) sentimentality we’d been living for a while. Because, like many people, there are still some unresolved issues driving us both crazy that just get buried under the day-to-day stuff. They’re still there and, until we have the time or energy to unearth them, they fester.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not wild about arguing, or shouting, or angry words. But having survived a first marriage where we never seemed to resolve anything, (hence the words first marriage), at least in this one, 12 years in, we actually try to wrangle our demons, both shared and individual.
One of the toughest parts of an intimate relationship of any duration is figuring out how (when, if) to fight. What do you say and what’s taboo? Who apologizes first and who really means it? What happens if you just can’t find common ground or a compromise?
It took us several grim years for him to accept that you can love the hell out of someone and still be really angry at them. Our first fights were at least 30 percent worse because of the added catalyst of disbelief and dismay on his part that we even were fighting. In my family, it was pretty standard operating procedure.
Now, maybe because we’re been together for so long and have mellowed and/or matured and/or accepted some of the behaviors we once railed against in one another — or maybe we’re just pooped — we don’t fight much at all.