Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The tangle and the weave

Last spring I read a wonderful book by Jonathan Odell titled The Healing - a story that takes place on a slave plantation in the South. One of my favorite moments came when midwife Polly Shine is teaching her young apprentice Granada about the art of healing and says that her own mother's people in Africa were the finest weavers in the world.
"She told me the secret...what made them so fine, mother after daughter after grandaughter, all the way down the line."

"What was it Polly?"

"She say, the difference in weavers is, some see the tangle and others see the weave. The ones that can't take their eyes off the tangle, they never rise above it."
On this first day of the new year, I am once again reminded of the wisdom in that analogy. Polly was conveying a message that went far beyond weaving and even the art of physical healing. She was talking about soul-healing - which is a necessary ingredient to liberation. If we ever want to rise above our current situation, we have to be able take our eyes off of the current struggle of the tangle and be able to see the weave.

Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that a woman who had lived her life in slavery is the one who could pass on that kind of wisdom. In one of the more ironic twists of the human condition, it does seem that the deeper the struggle, the more people tend to focus on the weave. Here's how Clay Claiborne addresses that.
For someone sitting on the very edge of survival, hope is extremely important. Often it is only hope, sometimes even false hope, that allows him to make it to the next day... Cynicism is deadly for someone on the edge of survival. Even in the darkest night, he cannot afford to be cynical. That cynicism just might push him over the edge.

Cynicism is a privilege. When practiced by those in a position to do it well, cynicism allows them to criticize the oppressor and sympathize with the oppressed without ever having to move out of their comfort zone. 
What got me thinking about all that are the much more mundane events we are witnessing today as Congress works on a deal to forestall the so-called "fiscal cliff." What we're seeing once again is that some progressives are addicted to their focus on the tangle of where the ceiling was set for an increase in taxes - while they miss the weave of recognizing that this is the first time in 20 years that Republicans in the Senate have voted overwhelmingly for a tax increase. To those living on the edge of survival, that kind of privileged cynicism is unthinkable. If this deal passes the House, they just avoided a potential tax increase, have seen their unemployment insurance extended, and will still have access to things like child tax credits and/or college tuition tax credits.

After four years of witnessing this kind of poutrage coming from a contingent on the left, Polly Shine's words throw some light on the problem...due to their focus on the tangle, they'll never rise above it.

I myself have trouble quelling the hope that some day these folks will finally be able to see the weave. Every time President Obama and the Democrats move the ball a few inches farther down the field (to switch metaphors...sorry), I hope that finally they will wake up to the fact that we are all slowly rising out of the bondage of the Reagan revolution. But they literally can't see it...because they are so focused on the tangle.

So bear with me as I struggle with that hope. One thing you can count on...I'll keep my eye on the weave.  


  1. What a gorgeously well-written post, Smartypants. I love it when you go all literary on us. Very teacherly, too. I learn a lot coming here.

    I don't have any hope to struggle with regarding the whiner brigade ever seeing the weave. Not sure why it's important that they ever do. They don't see the weave because they aren't just addicted to the tangle, they revel in it, they ARE the tangle. One basic tenet that I hold is that these people lack basic strategy skills. They're great at 'tactics' but strategy is outside their scope of capability. Trying to 'fix' that in them makes us part of their tangle.

  2. Mo'nin Ms. Pants

    And, a MOST happy and prosperous New Year to you and alla we "SP'ers".


    Something to keep in mind about Ms. Pants is that she's a "recovering" shrink (I, on the other hand, am still at it). The thing about that is that, for many of us, we believe that the human entity can change. Therein, the case is made for why it miiiight be a good idea - to stay with the metaphor - , which I LOVE ('cep'tin' I also think about our hair as it might get braided), to change by seeing the weave. I've noted her to argue with folks about why her perspective should be considered. But, there comes a point if they are insistent to live in "the tangle"...

    Sometimes, people change. Who knows what the process will entail? I can assure you, because I've "seen" you at some other spots, that you REALLY impact on people that read your cogent posts. You nevvvver know when you've really gotten someone to stop and seriously question how they've been thinking about a matter.

    I often say to Ms. Pants how much she's "needed". And, so are you and so are many, many more of us. Shall we turn EVerybody around? No. But, as we just witnessed with this election, every little bit helps. Indeed, though, we should guard against getting bogged down. People do have a right to be "outraged" and howl (eye roll).

    1. Thank you, Blackman. You're right, you never know when we might impact someone, but it's been my experience that never happens when we yell at them, or say they are wrong. It happens quietly and in the privacy of their own minds. People change because they are ready. It's our job to be there when that happens handing them an open perspective to ponder.

      I've dealt with my share of addicts in this lifetime and have taken the time to truly embrace the 12 steps, which worked well for me. Nothing is more critical to the process than realizing what we can and cannot change in life. Fixing people never works. Accepting them does. I accept that there are a variety of people who are simply not ready to see the weave; that they literally need to be the tangle. I just let them be and write for people who are ready to listen. If at some point some of the tangles want to look at my weaving, then it's there for them.

      Happy New Year to one and all. This is a wonderful community and we are all very lucky to share in Smartypants genius.

    2. Thanks Blackman!

      This is a bit off topic, but a while ago you and I went back and forth a bit about something I said about the author Jonathan Odell. I wanted you to see this video of him talking about what it means for white people to tell black stories. I'd appreciate hearing if it doesn't fit quite well with some wisdom you share here regularly.

  3. Been waiting for your take all morning. This post was well worth the wait.

    Your and CLaiborne's statements on the perils and hypocrisy of cynicism were absolutely spot on. God, I wish folks would get it!

  4. This is a beautifully written and insightful post. Thanks Smartypants and keep it up.


  5. Very powerful stuff. Good post! Very wise, Smartypants. Remember Jeremiah called them foolish and senseles people--having eyes but cannot see. He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts. That's deep!

  6. Great way to ring in the new year! I totally agree and Appreciate your ongoing work and thoughtfulness.

  7. Mornin everyone. And Happy New Year to all you beautiful people!!!

    Tien Le:

    There are times I want to give up. I'm not always sure about why I don't. To be honest, sometimes I think its because I need a clash of ideas to push me and the R's are totally worthless at that these days.

    But more to Blackman's point, I did find it interesting to connect the "hope" in Claiborne's quote to my own feelings about that at the end of this piece. I'm not sure if that's fair, but its hard to imagine how hope can be a bad thing unless, as you say, it makes you part of their tangle (VERY well said!)

  8. Always too much philosophizing, never enough scientific method.

    People get too wedded to the need to "feel good" about what happens. Who cares? Actions have consequences, and those consequences can be theoretically discerned and studied. If inequality keeps rising, did anything that got hashed out really matter that much? I don't know, we'll find out. Is it possible that raising taxes on the middle class will have the most immediate economic impact? I don't know, we'll find out.

    Why do environmentalists care that climate action is done piecemeal and shotgun style? Emissions are down 10% and subsidies to clean energy have been funded into perpetuity?

    If government is an experiment, then we'd all be better off being less sentimental about changing experimental conditions. And less insistent that every negotiation depend on finding the optimum game-theory winning move.

  9. Thanks, Smarty Pants. I'm both honored and enlightened. I love that you used Polly to make such a vital point about today's political landscape.

  10. Hi Smartypants!

    Beautiful! Thanks for such an insightful post. you gave me an "aha" moment with C.Claiborne's quote on cynicism and how people the edge of survival can ill afford it: "Often it is only hope, sometimes even false hope, that allows him to make it to the next day"

    thanks. have a blessed new year!


  11. Feliz y prospero Ano Nuevo to you & yours.

    I read often but seldom comment. This was so beautiful & so wise that I had to tell you how much I appreciate your insight. Gracias!


  12. A very Happy New Year, SP! May 2013 open the eyes of more and more citizens to the ongoing march towards the 'equality' North Star on which PBO has set his eyes. Thank you much for your continued contribution on that journey.

    Big thanks to SmartyP, Blackman and Tien for the earlier interaction accompanying this post. Food for thought, indeed!

  13. Hey, VC

    You're quite welcome. And, Ms. Pants...

    I, literally, laughed out loud as I was listening to Odell. Quite insightful and honest he is, I see. And, he's right and that's a classic state of affairs when, if you will, whites write (or make movies) about black folk or pretty much any minority. It's mind boggling, frustrating, and angering to run into, at points, that you're not viewed to be as "fully formed". I assure that, right here, is a significant factor of POTUS' gray. And, how he handles it in public... Therein....

    If you wanna see some interesting back and forth about this, you should see some of these on-going pieces coming out about: "Django Unchained".

    1. It was that back and forth about Django Unchained that reminded me of that video clip. I haven't seen the movie - but I could surely see Tarantino's privilege in his response to the critiques from black folks.

      Very important point you make about POTUS' gray hair.

    2. In movies and tv shows, a black man or black woman is more often than not the second banana who offers the white lead sage advice. Fortunately for the United States, we now have a black man and a black woman as the top bananas offering and actually putting into effect sage advice.

  14. @Anonymous 5:57

    Fortunately for the United States, we now have a black man and a black woman as the top bananas offering and actually putting into effect sage advice.



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