I think it was in sixth grade that I realized that other people were not like me--or, perhaps more devastatingly, that I was not like other people. Probably this revelation comes much earlier to most people, but I was (as my mother can attest) an incredibly self-absorbed child, perfectly content with my own projects and creative energies and generally oblivious to the projects and needs of others. It's not that I didn't know that other people thought differently from me (that was driven home pretty dramatically in fourth grade when another girl accused me of worshiping the devil because I was Mormon), it's just that I don't seem to remember caring much about it, or thinking about it at all.
So the realization that other people didn't necessarily value the same things that I did or see the world in the same way was a paradigm shift in my world view that shook me like a kind of seismic tremor. Although I could (and did) still retreat into self-absorption, I could never quite recapture that childhood conviction that I was at the center of the universe.
I suppose this may explain why reading George Eliot's Middlemarch for the first time as an undergraduate in college felt, in some ways, like reading a personal handbook for the first time. When I read about Dorothea, with her intense religious passion to make something meaningful out of her life, I wrote in the margins of my book, "I feel like Dorothea." I wrote a lengthy paper that semester analyzing Middlemarch, to rave reviews from my professor (although in retrospect it was not a particularly interesting paper), and later wrote my honors thesis on the marriage tropes in Middlemarch.
So it's not particularly surprising that, in trying to find a literary passage or reference around which to frame a blog for personal musings and theoretical questions, I should turn again to Middlemarch. George Eliot herself has always been a sort of enigmatic figure to me--a woman who was agnostic at best, but who was fascinated by religious ardor and intensity (most of her powerful female characters are intensely religious--she describes Dorothea as a St. Theresa who missed her calling by a few centuries). But her writings are some of the most moral and ethical writings I've encountered.
Of the many ideas that I love in Middlemarch (and there are many--that same professor who raved about my paper once said that he thought Middlemarch should be required reading for all engaged couples because of it's realistic treatment of marriage and romantic love), perhaps the one I love the most is Eliot's idea of "an equivalent centre of self." (See the quote in the sidebar). For Eliot, the height of moral development seems to come when one realizes the weight of others' individuality. That is, that each of us see the world from a highly individualized perspective, and while we may (and most often do) value our own perspective more than that of others, we need to also respect those differences. I suppose, in religious terms, you might translate this recognition of others' individuality as charity--the kind of pure love for others that lacks religious judgment.
Lest you misunderstand, I should clarify that I have NOT chosen this title because I think I've arrived at a full understanding of the otherness of others, or that I have a perfect understanding of charity. Far from it. In fact, it's because I think I need to develop a greater awareness (of myself, of others) that I'm starting this blog in the first place. I find that writing often gives me clarity and insight. Also, curiously, I find that writing about ideas breeds still more ideas--and with small children at home I like the reminder that I do still have a brain. Even if it's a little bit rusty.
So there you have it. A new blog. I'm not sure yet how frequently I'll be posting, but do please come back and visit.