The Care of the self By Teodros Kiros

January 21st, 2011 Print Print Email Email

Introduction

My concern with the cultural disease of decadence and its possible overcoming by cultural transformation will be delivered in a yearlong project in ten articles. Once my readers engage these articles, I will incorporate their responses into the body of the articles. (more…)

Introduction

My concern with the cultural disease of decadence and its possible overcoming by cultural transformation will be delivered in a yearlong project in ten articles. Once my readers engage these articles, I will incorporate their responses into the body of the articles. I invite my readers to participate in this civic discourse, honestly, critically and civilly. Let us do this for our historic homeland, the birthplace of human kind.

Aristotle, the great Athenian thinker once remarked that virtue is nothing more than the activity of the soul in accordance with excellence, or at least, not without it.

The two key terms in that remark are Virtue and Soul. Virtue and Soul are not foreign to classical Ethiopian moral imagination; they are only becoming increasingly common to contemporary Ethiopian cultural life and thereby causing the prevalence of cultural decadence, as I argued recently in “ Cultural Decadence” (Abugida, Ethioquest, Ethiopian Review, Ethiosun, Addis voice, Ethioguardian, Quatero, Teoclahagos, Jan 14,2011).

Infact our historic Christian sensibilities preach the relevance of virtue and soul. Unfortunately, the message has not been internalized. The message is pushed by the churches but ordinary Ethiopians have not made the practice a living part of their everdaylives, and this is a serious problem, which needs to be solved.

The first step of cultural transformation is the moral organization of the self.

The care of the self demands that the individual attends to her soul by developing an internal relationship between self and self, and not self and the church. The latter relationship is remote and external to the soul. The soul must be activated from the inside and the relatioship between self and self is internal to the soul. The activity of the soul is a conversation that the self enters into privately, as a conversation between the creator and the lost soul, or the soul, which wishes to become virtuous, become good. The internal parts of the soul, which must be activated, are reason, the desires and spiritedness.
These three are the engine of the soul. Should we want to be good we must cultivate the relationships between these three parts in accordance with the foundational principle of conversing with our creator.

Consider the following example. Two Ethiopians are having a passionate conversation about the ongoing discussion of forgiveness for the imprisoned derg leaders. One is opposed the other is giving it a considered reflection. Both are consulting their souls and trying to think wisely. Reason is guiding the discussion but the desire to revenge and the spirited disposition are at war with one another. What should these concerned Ethiopians do? At this stage I will only introduce the problem, and in the next article, I will propose a solution, and argue that a conversation with our Lord may provide an answer.

Conversation with the creator is a private matter, central to the care of the self, a point that I will address in my next article on the care of the self.

Teodros Kiros
Professor of Philosophy and English (Liberal Arts)
Berklee College of Music

  1. Gash Polisu
    | #1

    Dear Professor,

    you said, “…Reason is guiding the discussion but the desire to revenge and the spirited disposition are at war with one another. What should these concerned Ethiopians do? At this stage I will only introduce the problem, and in the next article, I will propose a solution, and argue that a conversation with our Lord may provide an answer.”

    I could not have said it any better. I read your thoughtful articles these days and am very encouraged that you boldly express your views in public in a way that ordinary people like me can understand. please keep writing; you can influence many Ethiopians who will be in charge of managing their country’s affairs tomorrow. the numerous Ethiopian intellectuals could also be emboldened to come out of their closet and throw their two cents in the interests of their people, to whom they owe evrything.

  2. teodros kiros
    | #2

    Dear Gash;

    What a blessed read, and how soothting to my soul. I l hope I will rise to the occasion in my next ten articles, which I will develop slowly with the help of the creator.

  3. tad
    | #3

    Prof.
    I read and learn a lot from you. I can’t wait what you propose.
    God bless

  4. Netsanet
    | #4

    Dear Professor, the topic of the self is very important because a society is the sum and synergy (positive or negative) of the individual selves. May be the topic of pardon may not be answered purely from philosophical stand point or from cultural stand point. It involves atrocities that is felt humanly and strongly by affected groups who lost their loved ones. It is some thing that revolves around a crime committed on the society crossing cultural, economic and political barriers for the sake of preservation military prestige and power. Certainly cultural elements are seriously involved: a typical example was both EPRP and MEISON also Derg quickly drew in to confrontation and showdown. The culture of profound individualism is inbuilt in the Ethiopian society where, as Donald Levine once put it , Ethiopians prefer litigation over negotiation. But coming to the pardon, we have the case of subjects unjustly treated by the powerful military, who had no mercy at all when they could show it to those defenseless subjects they so willingly sent them to their death. It was a grave and heinous crime committed on humanity. If people could not find sense of pardon, i on my part will find it difficult to blame them or even blame our culture, although certainly culture is an element in both the good and the bad.

    But i can not resist appreciating your sense of vision and query in to our lives as citizens and as human beings and as humans practicing religion. It is some thing that is not addressed as such it needed to be and i thank you for taking time and interest and letting other express their view for the sake of having a better life and better society both in soul and then material. But when one describes the past generation versus the present, i find it a little difficult to draw a thicker line and tend to think the present is some how the derivative of the past. Therefore, how we treat our individual selves versus the others bears similarity where the essence is the same but the manifestation change with the changing of time. When i was a young boy at emperor Hailsilassie time, i remember how being poor was like an ethnic distinction, almost equivalent to the present amahra, or tigre. How the rich resent and revile the poor is still so vivid in my memory. One day i was walking with a school friend of mine from a rich family and as we were coming from elementary school. His father saw us while driving his car and called him and scorned him: ” how dare you meet with such son of a poor” while i could visibly hear the voice and his father having a scornful look at me. At present time there is a lot of comedy jokes on so called BOLE boys and girls, whose behavior seems to have been a left over of the feudal past. Those young people still display that rich/poor class attitude and sense of avoidance with their compatriot citizens whom they regard as less affluent. The ethiopian revolution of 1966 did not come out of the blue. I remember in the imperial past, my father used to bring me some publication of university students from his work place and i was reading students essays of the time which were so moving. I remember one vrese which reads as follows:

    ታድለህ ተወለደህ ከነአባባ ቤት
    ትንቀባረራለህ በዘረፉት ሀብት::
    ወይ እድልህ ወይ እድሌ!
    አንተም እንደ እድልህ እኔም እንደ እድሌ መሆኑን አውቃለሁ:
    እስከዚያ ድረስ ግን እንደነብሰ ጡር ሴት ቀኔን እቆጥራለሁ::
    ወይ እድልህ ወይ እድሌ!

    The euphoria and madness of the revolution of the time and the coming of the unknown butcher called the Derg was a result of the suffering within the reservoir of repression of Ethiopia’s past, some thing that we still have to grippe with because the actions of that past still lives with us to this day and continue to divide us on the course of action we have to take as the topic of pardon indicates.

    But i am still puzzled by the strength of the feudal past and how it molded and created the modern Ethiopian society. When i joined the university, although it was during Derg time, it was very debilitating to be a student coming from a poor family. Even in those times the rich showoff their affluence over the poor. Identifying with richness and telling that one has a rich relative even if remote was some thing Ethiopian proudly talk about. I remember how after graduation, students show off themselves against their poor neighbors. I have grown and lived in a society where the individual strives to find ways of outdoing others or growing at the expense of others. I should have this thing and i wish other compatriots of my country never had it is a common feeling. I used to be puzzled where envy comes from and why on earth Ethiopian people are so envious of each other. I find the answers partly of the feudal past. Still to this day i see a lot of enviousness and rivalry where people almost define life as living against the interest and welfare of others. This culture also clutters the Ethiopian political atmosphere.

    When i went abroad, what i noticed often is an Ethiopian who happened to live America or England when he encounters a fellow Ethiopian fresh from home, feels aloof and never wants to greet him or entertain him (you mentioned before about how we look at “strangers” around us). That Ethiopian who feels he is more abroad than the other feels invaded and uncomfortable that the other new coming Ethiopian is sharing this expensive oxygen of abroad with him, as if that oxygen is in short supply. It is puzzling to see how Ethiopians never get together to do things in group and tend to think individually. Back in Ethiopia, meetings and conferences are places of show down, where one Ethiopian wants to outsmart and prove to other Ethiopians that he is better than them. I recently attended one academic conference where staffs from the same university are constantly fighting and degrading each other, all of them having PhD while professors from other countries were present and watching inapprehension. The Ethiopian professors literally took any criticism very personally. The truth suffers in the middle while the academicians were trying to disprove each other. There is a lot of unhealthy feeling among each other. When one Ethiopian suffers or is mistreated at home , it is common to see other Ethiopians laugh about it and never show any concern. Amidst this cultural environment, double standards, collusion to do the evil, mistrust, theft, corruption are colloray activities. The decadence is manifest. But i feel that this is the derivative of the Ethiopian past. I experienced it in my childhood. I experienced it all the same even in the big university. I experienced it at work place and while going abroad. When an Ethiopian now is imprisoned because of politics, relatives always blame him or her for getting involved. “For whose sake?” ለማን ብለህ? ለማን ብለሽ ? is some thing that relatives often say. This ethnic prejudice has been there all along (some thing that you mentioned in your article in the past). It has been there in the past and is there still in the present time. I have witnessed the ethnic degradation against all sorts of ethnic groups in my whole life. Even to this day it is still alive but manifest in some covert ways. The Ethiopian society never rose above this petty culture. gain this is not the past versus the present. It is the present as a child of the past. The over reaction in the form of ethnic politics and formation of ethnic parties. The ethnic xenophobia are all part of this imperfect part in its own way.

  5. teodros kiros
    | #5

    I thank you Tad. Infact, I just finished the first draft of my next article, and I am already pleased with it, and I will have one full week to polish it.

    Happy Temket to you and your family.

  6. teodros kiros
    | #6

    Dear Netsanet.

    What a thinker you are ,and how honored I am for you to take time and write these marvelous observations of cultural decadence. I truly believe that if we begin criticizing ourselves, we will begin seeing change. Change always begins with care of the self-attending to the soul;also, as you properly point out, the political dimension of decadence must also be factored in. I will devote one article to the political dimension, as you see it.

    Thanks again, for this serious and well crafted piece.

  7. Selamta
    | #7

    Thanks again Prof. Teodros. Many of us like to criticize others and do not like what we see around our immediate environs but the last thing we ever do is to change it. That is where the failure begins and that is why the very thing that we dislike remains within us. When it comes to ourselves, we find it difficult to change; yet we want to change a nation. This hypocricy and the need for returning to SELF is explained by Jesus in the parable of the speck and the log. (Matthew 7:1-5, Luke 6:41-42) I have come to understand that things around us are always dependent on our actions and inactions; meaning, the circumstances that we like or dislike them depend entirely on the steps we take and don’t take. I do remember a number of occassions when I was filled with silent opinions and cringed with judgements whenever I came across certain types of people. I gave them all kinds of names even before meeting and knowing these persons. I eventually realized that I was always projecting my behaviour onto them since most of them surprisingly represented the parts of myself that I am uncomfortable with. That is when I undesrtood the deep meaning of Jesus’s verse “…Love your neighbor as yourself.” Someone who has a painbody and doesn’t like himself will never appreciate others. In a wider scenario, the perpetual cycle of hate, resentment, vengeance will never stop spinning unless change starts from within.

    Cheers!

  8. teodros kiros
    | #8

    Dear Selamta;

    Your last four lines said it all. One must like oneself first so that he could like others. Exactly. I would like to add, and one must learn how to to like oneself. Liking yourself is an activity of the soul.

    Thanks.

  9. Selamta
    | #9

    Prof Teodros,
    That is correct, finding the SELF is an activity of the soul which inturn leads to awakening or, in other words, connects us to GOD. As you mentioned earlier, going to church alone does’t bring us to the awareness of our soul. That is just a tiny part of the awakening process. An awakened soul is loving and caring. A deeper union and communion with GOD and hate, resentment and vengeance don’t go together. God wants not only our mind and heart, but also our soul. Right before Jesus did his miracles or healings, he went out into the hills to pray in private, spending the whole night in prayer with God. He was perfectly connected with his soul and filled with God’s spirit when he came back. So, I totally agree with you that finding and feeling the soul within us is the only way toward love, peace and harmony.

  10. Wegonoche
    | #10

    Dear All
    I always struggle to draw the line between ‘self which I have control over’ and ‘self shaped by teachings of my surroundings’.

    My question to you all is:

    is ‘self’ not a product of culture, religion, parents, education and what have you?

    or

    Is ‘Self’ formed by the impact of combination of individual and society which one lives in?

    In answering my question, please do not forget to consider context: Forgiving imprisoned Derg?

    Many thanks.

  11. teodros kiros
    | #11

    Dear Selamta;

    I am so impressed by your thoughts that I feel I will one meet with you and think more. Feel free to email me to kiros@fas.harvard.edu. Do so anytime you want.

    Dear Wogonche;

    I will engage your brilliant query my next article.

  12. Selamta
    | #12

    I don’t want to take over Prof Teodros’s writings and misrepresent his intent. To my understanding, the SELF or the SOUL is already there and doesnot get deformed by external factors. It is our life purpose to rediscover it. Think about how an innocent infant turns to a monster in a couple of decades. It is because the mind takes over the soul. And the mind is the one that is impacted by culture, parent, etc.

    To me, the primary beneficiary of forgivness is the forgiver as it soothes his/her soul. What good pain and resentment do for us, if they are always torturning and polluting our mind. Repaying injury for injury and blood for blood has never dissolved human insanity, it rather transfers the spirit of the wrongdoer on to the victim. The stories of David and Soul leave lessons for us about the horror of humanity and the power of forgivness.

    Cheers!

  13. teodros kiros
    | #13

    Dear Selamta;

    You hit it just right. Forgiveness in fact heals the forgiver, it brings the best out of the person, and puts her in ease to live with others, including those who have traumatized her.

    Dear Selamta, I think you will be pleased with my next move, next Friday evening.

  14. Wegonoche
    | #14

    Punishment vs crime guided by culture
    ፍርድ በራስ ነውና ለመፍረድ አንቸኩል ነው ያባቴ ጸሎት ለማንኛውም

    ነገር በምሳሌ ጠጅ በብርሌ ይባላልና ለጥያቄዬ መንደርደሪያ ሁለት ምሳሌዎች ብሰጥ የበለጠ ጥያቄዬን ግልጽ ያደርገዋል. ምሳሌዎቹ ትኩረታቸው ባህል ሁኖ ጥፋትና ቅጣት ያላቸውን ግንኙነት ያላቸውን ትሥሥርና የኛ ዳኝነት ማየት የሚጋባውን ለመጠቆም ነው

    1. ተማሪ ሳለሁ የእጅ ስራ አስተማሪያችን ስራችሁን አቁሙና ተሰለፉ አሉንና በታወቅችው መምችያቸው ቂጣችንን እስኪደክማቸው መቱት.
    ጥፋታችን አስተማሪያችን ወጣ ብለው ሲመለሱ የተሰበረ መጋዝ ሰጋቱራው ውስጥ ያገኛሉ
    በዚህ ተናደው ማን መጋዙን ሰብሮ እነደጣለ አውጡ ተብለን ማን እንደጣለ የሚያውቅ ስለጠፋ ነው.

    እሳቸው ተናደዋል ያጠፋውን እያወቅን ደብቀናል ይሁን, ስራችንን ትተን ማን ምን እንደሚሰራ ማወቅ ይኖርብን እንደሆን, አይገባኝም
    በእኔ አይን እሳቸው አለቃ መመደብ ይችሉ ነበር አልመደቡም.

    2. እቃ ለመግዛት ሰልፍ የተስለፉ ሰዎች በዝተው ግፊያው ጨምሮ ስርዓት ለማስያዝ የመጣው ጠባቂ በልምጭ ከሰልፍ የወጣውን ሲገርፍ ማየት የተለመደበት አገር ነውና

    ለማንሳት የፈለግሁት ዋናው ነገር ቅጣቱ በዘመኑ ዱላ መሆኑ ነው.
    ጥፋት ይሁን አይሁን መመርመር የለም ኃላፊነቱን መወጣት ያቃተው ሁሉ ቢገርፍህ ጥቂቱ ነው አትምታኝ የሚለውና
    ከመፍረድ ያውጣኝ ካልኩ ሰንብቻለሁ

    I want to thank you all in advance for taking your time to answer my question.

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