By Nancy Huntting
Reprinted from The Rock Island Argus, Rock Island, IL, September 22, 2003, and the Tennessee Tribune, Nashville, TN, Sept. 18-24, issue. Appeared in the on-line Forum of the Thoroughbred Times, Lexington, KY.
Most people do not think kindness is powerful. And most nations don’t either. In 1970, Eli Siegel, the great American educator and founder of Aesthetic Realism, stated passionately in a lecture on economics —
I say that the whole purpose of history is to show that the greatest kindness is the greatest power. [from Goodbye Profit System: Update by Eli Siegel, Definition Press, NY].
I think the 2003 movie “Seabiscuit” is evidence for this, and that its huge popularity shows people are thirsting to see that kindness is not a soft, weak, ‘nice’ thing— it has might and pizzazz!
The film, about the brave race horse who stirred all of America during the Great Depression, shows that kindness not only can bring out astonishing power in a horse, but brings out possibilities in people around him that might never have been!
Nobody saw what that little ornery horse, who apparently loved to doze in the shade half the day, had in him — until wrangler Tom Smith came along and tried to understand him.
Real kindness, I’ve learned, is not gush, or sacrificial. Mr. Siegel defined it as “that in a self which wants other things to be rightly pleased,” and he wrote:
A person is kind who feels a sense of likeness to other things…. to be kind, we must have the imagination arising from the knowledge of feelings had by others…. Kindness is accuracy…. To know a thing as it is, is to give it its due. [from Definitions, and Comment: Being a Description of the World by Eli Siegel]
In this film, Seabiscuit’s tremendous success stands for the kinder America that came to be under The New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: where every person was seen as deserving to have a home, a job, decent food and clothes, and the best in him or her brought out!
It is now 2003, and economics in America has failed. In lectures he gave in the 1970s, Mr. Siegel showed that the profit system, in which men and women — and, yes, even children — are seen as existing for the enrichment of owners and stockholders, is based on contempt, “the addition to self through the lessening of something else.” The contempt at the basis of economics has caused massive suffering and massive inefficiency, like the recent blackout. Ellen Reiss, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, describes the outrage in Americans when she writes:
Today there is this tremendous feeling in people: ‘We want to work on a basis that is respectful of us! We don’t want to be seen as profit-producing mechanisms for someone, to be paid as little as possible and discarded!’ This desire in America for a respectful economics…exists unquenchably whatever goes on in Washington, whatever is in the news. [ from The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, 2/5/03]
Our economy will recover only when it is based on good will, “ the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful.” Watching Seabiscuit, I felt — that is what is happening to the men who work to have that unlikely horse win against the mighty War Admiral, in one of the most remarkable races in history. Each of them becomes “stronger and more beautiful”!
This film goes along very deeply with the most important question for America now, which Eli Siegel asked: “What does a person deserve by being alive?”
Nancy Huntting is a teacher on the faculty of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City, and writes and speaks on women in history and today. She grew up near Cincinnati and loved to ride and visit the horse farms in Kentucky.