Aesthetic Realism Consultant Nancy Huntting

Frances Wright (1795 - 1852), abolitionist
Frances Wright (1795 -1852), abolitionist

Aesthetic Realism Public Seminar

What Does It Mean to Like People?
by Nancy Huntting 
From the Women Are Various Seminar of Sept 4, 2003, 
at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, 141 Greene Street, New York, NY 10012 

People are "reality in the richest form," Eli Siegel says in his lecture on the subject, and he explains:

The important thing about liking that through people we can like reality.  Through liking reality we can like people; which simply means that we accept the idea that knowing what people feel, what makes them feel as they do, what goes on within them, is good for us.
This lecture is one of the most important--for every woman, every person.  Growing up I didn't think there was anything wrong with the fact that, while I wanted people to like me very much, I didn't like most people.  I had three best girl friends in high school, and a boy friend I went steady with--actually it was un-steady--and was busy and rarely alone.  But I didn't know why I was often so uncomfortable with people and unsure of myself and could suddenly feel so lonely.  And why couldn't I find anything to say to people at parties, in elevators, in stores? 

I came to have much greater ease as I learned in Aesthetic Realism consultations that I had a motive that I couldn't like myself for--which was a desire to have contempt for people.  I came to see that knowing what goes in within people, granting them full reality, was how I could understand myself! 

I will be speaking about myself, a woman studying in Aesthetic Realism consultations, and about aspects of the life of Frances Wright, who lived from 1795 to 1852.  Walt Whitman heard her speak when he was 9 years old, in 1828, and later wrote:

She was a brilliant woman, of beauty and estate...a woman of the noblest make-up whose orbit was...too large to be tolerated for long...a most maligned, lied-about character, one of the best in history though also one of the least understood.
Though practically unknown today, Frances Wright was among the earliest and most courageous persons in America against slavery and economic injustice.  "Humankind," she wrote, "its condition, its nature, its capabilities, and its destinies, have formed the study of my life."  Yet there was also that in her which was against liking people, and it caused pain in her life.

1.  Are We More Like or Different from Other People?

"Liking is the feeling," writes Eli Siegel in his great work, Definitions, and Comment, "that something outside of oneself has something in common with oneself; and that that something in common is for one."  We ask women in Aesthetic Realism consultations, "Do you think you are more like or different from other people?" and most often they have said different; this is what I answered in my first consultation in 1973 and what June Margold, a 22 year old college graduate from Wisconsin, answered in hers. Feeling we have something in common with all people, she began to learn, is the first thing in liking them.

Frances Wright, it seems, did have a feeling early that she was related to people different from her.  Biographer Celia Morris Eckhardt describes her as a young girl, who, because of her parents' early death, was raised in London by her aunt and her grandfather, Duncan Campbell: 

As she walked about the city with [him], she saw thousands begging pennies to buy bread.  When she asked her grandfather why these tattered mothers and their children were so poor, he said it was because they were too lazy to work.... 'God intended that there should be poor, and'  And when Fanny wondered if the rich robbed the poor, he replied indignantly that if she indulged such thoughts, she would not be admitted into good society.
A century and a half later in America, I had an attitude to people like that of Frances Wright's grandfather.  As my family drove on vacations through Kentucky to see the blue grass and splendid horse farms, I thought the poor people I saw living in shacks, brutally exploited coal miners, their children playing in dirt yards, lived that way because they were inferior to people like us. This is ordinary, cruel contempt: which Mr. Siegel described as the "addition to self through the lessening of something else"--which made me cold and unkind.  I had little desire to know what other people felt, and so I was walled up in myself.  Though I later imagined I was desperately in love, it was all about getting praise and importance for myself. 

In Aesthetic Realism classes, Eli Siegel spoke to me about where my attitude to people began.  He said: "We all preserve something of ourselves inviolate, not to be approached or to have anything to do with the outside world." And he asked: 

Could it be in your relation to your mother? A mother and daughter can go towards being the aloof gods, [feeling,] "Our relation is apart from the world." 
This was so true. I had used the adoring praise I got from my mother, Jean Huntting, to be a snob.In many conversations she and I had agreed in our snooty opinions of neighbors, including my girl friends: this one was too tall and thin, that one didn't know quite how to dress, or, unfortunately, wasn't so pretty.

Meanwhile, I thought my mother was foolish, and I was very different and far superior to her.  As a teen I was cruel to her, often yelling mean things, like "How can you be so stupid!" or "You don't know what you're talking about! You're so out of it!" I felt I could be as scornful as I wanted and still get her adoration--and I thought I should be able to do this with other people. I didn't understand how I could sometimes long to see her and 5 minutes later be furious with her.  She was suffering; my older brother had died of Muscular Dystrophy when he was 20, and my parents divorced a few years later.  While I could feel pity, her feelings weren't real to me, and I saw being "nice" to her as a burden.  Learning to see her fairly was crucial to my seeing all people better.  Mr. Siegel said to me in a class:

Eli Siegel: A person looks at another person and sees that person as someone one has been fair to or not.  It is so much easier to say 'That person has given me pain," than "Have I been fair to this person?" If your mother asked you very deeply, 'Have you been fair to me, Nancy dear?' what would you say?

Nancy Huntting:  No, I haven't.

ES:   Liking a person is a mingling of respect and being pleased.  And if you feel you don't want to like a person--that can make you guilty.  Have you wanted to like your mother?

NH:   Only recently.

ES: I am trying to bring that about. 

I thank Mr. Siegel with all my heart for encouraging me to have good will for my mother, which made for a crucial change in my life and hers.  When I called her in Cincinnati and asked her questions about her past, I saw that we had things in common and could really benefit each other.  The way we were inward and outward, reposeful and energetic was different but troubled both of us.  I began to appreciate her spontaneous enthusiasm, which, God Knows, I needed; she encouraged me to like different kinds of books and to get pleasure in many things I'd missed. I learned that, long before I was born, the mother I had seen as wanting to stay in the house, had, as a girl, jumped hurdles in summer camp in Connecticut, was popular with the football team, and secretary to the literary club in high school.  As I wanted to have a good effect on her and learn from her, we became close as never before.  In 1976 she moved from Cincinnati to New York, had Aesthetic Realism consultations, and wrote a letter to Eli Siegel expressing her large gratitude for his good effect on our family. 

Forward: Frances Wright & Motives with People

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