I will not cease from Mental Fight
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant Land.
I’ve been in a number of fights in my life – to keep my job, to save the college’s core curriculum, to have legal access to my father’s papers, for instance – and haven’t lost ‘em all. Despite experts forecasting that I must lose, I did win some.
After one notable win I was asked, at a meeting of academics, what technique or approach I had used.
“I have no method,” I said candidly. “God helped me.”
The academics smiled.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It’s not predictable. Not for one moment.
If I look back and ask what I did that achieved my aim, or – more accurately, what I did without which the success would not have had a chance – some things come to mind.
First, something happened that struck me as intolerable. Lots of intolerable things happen every day in the world but this was – for my sense of a meaningful life – not to be borne.
Second, I’d no idea what to do. So I groped around, trying to make clear why I thought this was unacceptable, while asking this and that person what they thought. Out of the suggestions that were thrown up randomly, I picked the response best suited to my capabilities and position on the map of conduct. I had no notion that, if I stepped up to the plate and swung in that way, it would repair or undo the situation that was intolerable. It was just the first thing I found to do.
Third, what I did clarified the field of combat somewhat. It provoked reactions, condemnations, accommodations – often all of these at once.
Fourth, on that clarified terrain, some came forward to ally themselves or were sought out by me as allies. At that point, the combat acquired the beginnings of the method or the politique that belongs to an assembly of relatively like-minded souls. I omit the innumerable somersaults that belong to human relations, especially under pressure.
Then there are the bystanders and their kibitzing. And I quote:
“It’s all gone, lost, the fix is in.”
“I’m taking early retirement.”
“You’ve become obsessed and are
neglecting more important obligations.”
“I want you to know that many of us
are so glad you’re doing this and
we’re right [yeah, a block and a half]
And lastly, after the occasional (unforeseeable) win:
“It would have happened anyway.”
“It would have been prevented anyway.”
“You were just lucky, since you never had a leg to stand on.”
About mid-way through one of my combats, I asked myself, Was I nuts? All I’d had to do was cast one itsy bitsy vote in a departmental election (or hell, call in sick on election day!) and I could have spared myself grief-with-no-end-in-sight. I “coulda been a contender.” Instead of normal career life, I’ve got this combat that swallows up the present and the future. Why did I do this?
WHY WHY WHY WHY?
In the ordinary sense of prudence, there is no prudential answer. The only answer – and no one can give it for another – is that without having taken this particular stand, or fought this fight – so small on the cosmic scale of things – I would have left myself behind.
No career success could have made up for that loss,