September 29, 2017



















Books 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 satisfaction.

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.