What is the name of the house you build inside you? I don’t mean the rhetorical house–the one you speak of when called upon–I mean the pithy, timbered house of thought. Mine is cautious optimism. I am not better than the man or woman whose inner house is cautious pessimism. This is simply what I have become and neither nature or nurture can explain it.
I’m in mind of this because I met someone recently who was so pessimistic he gave off a virtual odor. Worse, he tried to take me down. Generally I think people who don’t know the names of their inner houses are more likely to try dragging you into the parlors of their psyches. Maybe this sounds like fin de siecle psychoanalysis but so be it. Post-modernism and performance theory can’t explain everything.
Do we have a name for courage, declension of our social variables, consistency of progressivism, a commitment to human rights–all understood as the materials of mental architecture? It appears we do not and the daily news grows worse and worse. But I say the answer is to be “at home” in the time you live in. As the poet Robert Bly says in his poem entitled “Early Morning in Your Room”: “If you had/ a sad childhood, so what? When Robert Burton/Said he was melancholy, he meant he was home.”
Sadness can be a part of optimism. The very idea is one that contemporary Americans don’t appear to understand and this has consequences. One of them is what has come to be called “neo-liberalism” –a term that stands for rhetorical progressive values that are veneer all the way through. Neo-liberalism also tends to enforce single issue political values. But sadness can be a part of optimism, can’t it?
It matters what you call your house. I thought Barack Obama was right to call out the GOP for accusing him of engaging in class warfare by saying, essentially, “If that’s what they want to call it, then let’s call it that.” Sadness can be a part of optimism. Neo-liberalism probably can’t. The president made his choice. I admire him for that.