Of two minds. It’s how we live without crumbling into tears of frustration, terror and despair. We play mental games, don’t we? When I say “we” I mean slave owners and slave traders (past and present), black and white, vegetarians and trophy hunters.
Abraham Lincoln was just like the rest of us until he was sainted by assassination. Of two minds, he wrestled with slavery. Ambition isn’t always a bad thing for it gets a person out of their easy chair. It forces a person to declare something, to speak up–maybe the words and the ideas aren’t perfectly crystallized yet. Maybe a consensus hasn’t formed in the popular mind, but an ambitious person with moral qualms takes up the challenge knowing that even if he stumbles it’s better than sitting on the couch eating popcorn.
Better. Now there’s a word. It hardly means anything anymore. I’m surprised it’s not a banned word in public schools for it hints at meritocracy and superiority. And here is the mental game again: let’s pretend somethings aren’t painful. Let’s pretend that if we don’t like something it doesn’t exist.
Except for some outspoken and at times incredibly naive and hypocritical abolitionists most people in the North just preferred not knowing too much about the ins and outs of slavery. While most opposed it, it wasn’t their problem. Some may have read a few horror stories and congratulated themselves for being open enough and courageous enough to read the stories in their entirety.
I imagine if there was Facebook back in the day animal stories would go viral, celebrities would organize campaigns to save the Cecils in faraway lands. But would they allow themselves to watch an entire Planned Parenthood video? Would they watch a slave being whipped or beaten or raped? Would they pretend that slavery was like a clinical doctor’s office–clean and pain-free?
Or would they wrestle as Lincoln did with their own prejudices, fears and ignorance? Today in our tolerant and polite society how many of us are willing to be called vicious and mocking names for our beliefs? Let’s be honest with ourselves. How many of us would be willing to die for our beliefs or even be shunned for our beliefs? How many of us take the time to study what we think we already know because a talking head on TV or a blog told us it was so?
When I say “we” here I mean ME. In Africa the people wonder why we care more for an animal that they understand eats people than we do people. Our president chides African nations (in a condescending way I find offensive) for selling albino body parts for rituals. Okay. I’m with him on that, but he’s of two minds isn’t he? There’s a big body parts controversy right here in the states.
When I felt the child I was told I had to abort or I’d die move inside me and when I saw the ultrasound they had to take before the operation I was of one mind: SAVE ME. I understand the fear, despair and embarrassment of believing the lie of exploding populations and a life made easier without another baby to feed. I was poor and of an environmental mindset.
That baby haunts me still because I didn’t want her even before the health crisis. I want her now. (And yes it was most definitely a baby. I saw it and felt it).
I may lose my limited readership taking a stand here, but It’s impossible after watching bureaucrats chowing down lunch while callously discussing harvesting baby organs for thoughts not to crystallize. My heart had been wavering this summer about the foster care/adoption classes I took this spring. My life is peaceful and good here on the farm, but how can I not open my life up to the many families in crisis? How can I stay of two minds?
Some of you may wonder what this has to do with one of the best books ever written about antebellum America. This book requires an expansion of the mind. This book is an exercise. Yes, it’s thoroughly readable and full of anecdotes, but it’s more. It’s a study of the American mind and soul in all its wonderful and horrible complexity. David M. Potter spares no one, but he’s the rare soul who captures the difficulty of coming to one mind about things. He understands (and loves?) people.
Lincoln was an American man. Not a perfect man, but he took a stand and a chance. Here’s what Potter says about him:
2 responses to “Books I’ve Known And Loved”
Yes… Of two minds… This is a theme I come back to over and over in my writing – to what degree am I complicit in the evil I see around me? And why won’t I stop? Why does it seem like every time I pull myself out of the muck I find myself in another muck puddle?
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Me too. “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”
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