Parts II & III
CRITICISM IS LOVE
By Barbara Allen of There Are Wives
From an Aesthetic Realism Seminar
Includes Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson
(Fanny Van de Grift Osborne)
II. Criticism, Aesthetic Realism Shows, Is Love
In Aesthetic Realism lessons Eli Siegel taught his students how to be good
critics of ourselves and of other people. This is a new point in the history
of love and of marriage and I am very grateful I am part of this new education.
In a lesson in 1971 which I love and see as a classic text for every wife,
Eli Siegel explained a large cause of trouble in my first marriage: He
said I did not hope to respect my husband more. And he said: Many people want to get things on people. Do you think you want to
get things on your husband?
Barbara Allen. Yes.
Eli Siegel. The more bad things he does that you collect, the
more easy it is to forget him. When a person wants to justify himself,
he asks his spouse, 'Please do something bad.' The more the other person
does something bad, the more you justify yourself.
And later Mr. Siegel explained the difference between criticism that
is for a person and ill will, something that I am sure the Stevensons would
have been grateful to learn:
The thing is--Do we want to have the scorn continue or do we want
it not to be?
Aesthetic Realism says ill will on any of the twenty subjects that matter
to human beings is a mistake. Criticism which is not ill will, should
take the place of ill will.How crucial this is is hard to tell adequately. Wives must be able to learn
from Aesthetic Realism how to criticize themselves and their husbands with
good will, with the conscious hope that they be stronger and learn what
would make for that strength. I am grateful to have changed--and to be
able to say that I am proud of my purpose in my marriage. I know as I teach
with my colleagues in There Are Wives that this knowledge has made marriages
succeed, flourish, really become passionate and kind.
III. Sarah Colburn Is Learning about Criticism As Love
The questions I heard from Eli Siegel have been very useful to Mrs. Colburn
in her Aesthetic Realism consultations: she began to learn after 35 years
of marriage how to have good will for her husband. Sarah and Stan Colburn
met at a union meeting over 40 years ago and saw in each other a passion
for justice that they admired very much. "God it was something," she told
us. "We thought we were going to change the world."
But Mrs. Colburn did not see that alongside her desire for justice,
and to respect her husband, there was another desire--the desire for contempt.
She hoped to be disappointed in him and looked for reasons to be. She did
what Mr. Siegel explained to me, "The more bad things he does that you
can collect, the more easy it is to forget him."
Early in their marriage Sarah Colburn became discontent with her husband's
more thoughtful manner, which was just the quality she had cared for as
they courted. She wanted him to be more active, put himself ahead more.
The more assertive his wife got, the more Mr. Colburn retired, the more
stubbornly he did not listen. Both husband and wife were in a terrible
contest about whose way was superior. They did not see how much they were
taking the life out of each other.
When Mrs. Colburn came to her first consultation she seemed tired and
spoke in a flat, dull tone of voice. She said she had lapses of memory
that worried her very much. We asked: Did she think she was fair to the
world, to other people, to her husband, or did she look for reasons to
be scornful and to forget about them? We saw that Mrs. Colburn had been
going on the terrible assumption that she was simply superior to her husband.
This made it impossible for her to see him fairly and had poisoned their
conversations and daily life for many years. In order to be a good critic,
we have learned, you need to see a thing exactly. We told Mrs. Colburn: "Criticism, Mr. Siegel explained, is seeing a good thing as good; a middling
thing as middling and a bad thing as bad." And we told her:
We are going to work in these consultations so that you have a great,
accurate emotion about something outside yourself. We want you to feel
that things matter--including the feelings of your husband."Well," said Mrs. Colburn, "Good luck. I'm not too hopeful. I used to care
what happened in the world, but over the years I've gotten bitter--things
We gave her an assignment: To look for things--music, a sunset, someone
who was kind--that gave her feeling about the world that she wanted to
remember. She came to her next consultation and described a large vase
full of yellow tulips--"They're gorgeous!" she said--and as she did, her
eyes filled with tears. And it is important that as Mrs. Colburn became
a better critic of the world--did not want to miss value in things outside
herself, including other people--she was beginning to resee her husband.
We wanted Mrs. Colburn to use her critical mind to see to see who Stan
Colburn really is--that he is a a relation of opposites--strength and weakness;
good and bad, not to assume that she was good and he was not. She told
us in her fourth consultation, "I would like to be nicer to Stan, but he
told me he doesn't think I want to give up my contempt." "Isn't that true?"
we asked. "I don't want to be humiliated again," she answered.
Consultants. Do you believe your husband's deepest desire is
to like the world or to humiliate you? Do you see an honest man emerging
in these months?
Mrs. Colburn. [Grudgingly] Emerging.
Consultants. Are you as hard on yourself as you are on him? Do
you feel you are superior to men?
Mrs. Colburn. I think the average woman is.
This is simply not true. And this is the chief source of injustice in
marriage: how can you be a good critic of a person if you are prejudiced
or presume your own superiority in any way whatsoever? We said "Mrs. Colburn--you
need to see with as many details as possible that as you honestly hope to respect your husband, you will be proud of yourself." We also suggested
that she be brave and ask her husband for his criticism, and to write:
"What I am learning from Stan Colburn about the world and myself."
This and other assignments she did met the hope in Sarah Colburn to
hear the criticism that would convincingly counter her cynicism and contempt.
And she said: "Thank you, thank you for the changes Aesthetic Realism has
made in [our lives] because I was taught not to sum up, to see the opposites
and to have more respect for my [husband] and others." And in a recent
Aesthetic Realism and Marriage Class, she told us, "Because of what we
learned, after 40 years I am seeing my husband as if for the first time
and there is new romance between Stan and me!"
The marriage of Sarah and Stan Colburn and the marriage of Fanny and
Robert Louis Stevenson make this idea of Aesthetic Realism clear: two people
are looking for the criticism through which they can meet their own hopes--to
be kind, to have large feeling which increases every year. This is the
purpose of life and of marriage. The Colburns want the world to know how
their marriage changed. Their lives and ours show the truth and beauty
of the way the Aesthetic Realism sees Criticism and Love.