lonely woman on dock


The Loser is the epitome, the spittin’ image, of what we don’t want to be.

One time I shared, with a fireman friend, how it feels when you walk down the street feeling like one.

“And everybody knows,” my streetwise friend commented. “They all see.”

French philosophers have familiarized us with the notion of The Other, the person in whom we fail to find a common thread of humanity.

For myself, I don’t find that being The Other is all that bad. That is, it does not necessarily lead to abuses. If you know how to play it, you might milk your Otherness for a fair amount of one-upmanship.

“How dare you approach me as The Other,” you might say indignantly – while your unfortunate interlocutor shrinks to half his size and you make yourself out to be as exotic and unfathomable as you can manage to appear.

If being The Other is not so bad, if you know how to play it, being The Loser has no such charms. In my life, when I have found myself filling out that role, what I felt was a long chain of purposes, for which I had striven mightily over time, collapsing around me. Motivation itself collapsed. I couldn’t even fail any more, because I had nothing left to try for.

It’s the sound of a deafening silence. It’s Esau’s cry in Genesis 27: 30-38, when he comes home to find that his brother Jacob has stolen their father’s blessing:

“Is there no blessing left for me, father? Bless me, even me, also father!”

There are many theories –psychological, economic, sociobiological — that can explain what leads men and women to strike out at each other aggressively. Many of these theories are well reasoned and consistent with webs of belief now in general use.

So far as I am concerned, all the hatred, crime, self-sabotage and violence in the world comes down to Esau’s cry: bless me, even me, also Father!

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t uttered that cry in his or her heart betimes. If we face the cry as it lives in ourselves, we may be less tempted to rush headlong into empathy we do not feel, or to offer compensations that do not compensate.

Let Esau find his or her own desolation and the sheer face of cliff he or she has yet to climb. We put a lot of effort into trying to help each other, and some of it really helps and some of it really doesn’t help. But one of the things we can do is

let each other be.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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