I was briefly reminded of William Morris’s News From Nowhere the other day in a conversation with someone about what life would be like if we didn’t have money or “work” as we know it. In Morris’s socialist utopia there is no such thing as private property and no division between art, life and work. I did read the book a long time ago and can’t remember who did things like empty the bins and such but presumably such a world would be greener than Green and committed to state of the art composting. Everything works on the assumption that our basic impulse is towards good will, and that this will establish itself given the right conditions. Anyway, the character in the story woke up and found Utopia had all been a dream.
I suppose we try to create, or hope for, a kind of utopia in our relationships and it’s either neurosis or unquenchable optimism that keeps us hoping for the best of all possible worlds. Occasionally one sees it: the fully-functional family, group of friends or work colleagues where people like and help each other and let each other be; we may even know a few individuals who are simply inclined to look and hope for the best in people. But just lately (and I don’t think this is down to having re-given up cigarettes) I feel as though I’ve been bumping up against an awful lot of dysfunctionality: nothing that comes too close to me personally, but I find myself steering a conscious path in order to avoid it.
I like to think that my own (nuclear bit of) famly are pretty functional, fingers crossed that my kids will look back and feel the same, though one can never make too many assumptions about this. In the wider extended family I have experienced both extremes and various bits in the middle. Nothing too unusual there, perhaps, but the dysfunctionality is something I still have to take into account, find the balance between leaving myself too open, without adequate defences, and being too defended, closed to possible change. On the whole, I think I have erred on the side of the former and I am, as I will never tire of saying, a very late developer.
But these days, like I said, I am steering a path, giving a wide berth to anyone on the “life is shit therefore you are bad” trip, which is a journey an awful lot of folks seem to be on. No wonder so many people seem to be locking themselves away with their computer screens for company – I’m not talking about artisticos like us, friends. Natch. But really, life is short and getting shorter each day. It used to be hip to say that one didn’t choose one’s mates because they were good. From where I stand (or sit), though, kindness and sanity rule ok. And here’s a poem I like, by Brendan Kennelly.
The good are vulnerable
As any bird in flight,
They do not think of safety,
Are blind to possible extinction
And when most vulnerable
Are most themselves.
The good are real as the sun,
Are best perceived through clouds
Of casual corruption
That cannot kill the luminous sufficiency
That shines on city, sea, and wilderness,
One man to another,
Who yet will not accept
Responsibilities of light.
The good incline to praise,
To have the knack of seeing that
The best is not destroyed
Although forever threatened.
The good go naked in all weathers,
And by their nakedness rebuke
The small protective sanities
That hide men from themselves.
The good are difficult to see
Though open, rare, destructible;
Always, they retain a kind of youth,
The vulnerable grace
Of any bird in flight,
Content to be itself,
Accomplished master and potential victim,
Accepting what the earth and sky intends.
I think that I know one or two
Among my friends.