were an important part of my learning experience. They offered me a great
diversity of perspectives on the way of the world. Herman Hesse's
"Steppenwolf" was among my favourites. The author was a son of Christian
missionaries in India. His writing offered me a new way of looking at my
inherited religious tradition. My understanding was opened to imagine
alternative ways of seeing the world. The same thing followed from my
reading of Mervin Peake. He was the son of Christian missionaries in China.
His "Gormenghast Trilogy" revolved around a young boy named Titus. Titus was
born into a ritualistic society. Through three volumes, Titus explores and
tests the limits of his circumstance. The last volume has him break free
from the rituals of the past to discover a vital present rooted in his own
consciousness. Both these authors led me to turn toward the future with
hope. A hope that would take a fair number of years to mature.
I am not able to mention all of the authors
who touched me with their insights and encouragements. The Russian
existentialists, like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, allowed me to discover the
difference between the Eastern and Western branches of the Christian
religion. They also provided me with a clear sense of possible alternatives
to accepted ways of interpreting and expressing human experience. I began to
realize both my liberty and my responsibility in the face of principles and
structures by which our world is governed. A dawning awareness that
unquestioning compliance was a key factor in the rise of power's misuse and
abuse. That I had both opportunity and responsibility for questioning and
resisting what society considered normal and compulsory.
Gradually I turned from novels to philosophy.
This led me to wrestle with the ideas by which persons and societies are
shaped and maintained. Plato's "Gorgias let me understand that personal
responsibility and behaviour are crucial to the well being of a population.
Socrates takes on various persons who insist that the exercise of power over
others is the highest good. By that power every opportunity for pleasure is
realized to the highest degree. This with little or no regard for the cost
for others. Socrates dismisses this idea. He proposes personal ethical
responsibility in the light of truth to be the highest good. This even where
it brings a person into conflict with those who exercise power. Over time I
realized that material advantage is not equivalent to the highest good.
Rather, it may present a major obstacle to the obtaining of genuine human
Without any reserve I
am able to say that some of my best friends have been dead for hundreds of
years. As I wandered about trying to find my place in the world, persons
from all places and times enriched my understanding and encouraged my
commitments. This by their dedication to sharing what they perceived as
written language. Saying this I am aware that every serious writer has
struggled with the clear communication of things realized and valued. A task
requiring both patience and persistence.
Books were my lifeline in times of great
complexity. They provided a place apart, from which I could explore and
refine my own experience in the world.