Parts II & III


From an Aesthetic Realism Seminar

By Barbara Allen of There Are Wives

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 haven't changed." 

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.

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Copyright © 2000-2015 Barbara Allen, Aesthetic Realism Consultant