Recently, I did a fairly comprehensive Google search to assess my on-line reputation. While I found nothing objectionable, I was quite surprised to find three letters I had published in The New York Times before commercial Internet providers, the web browser or Google even existed. The first was published on the Sunday Week in Review op-ed page above a letter from Richard Nixon. So that was a thrill for a humble English teacher.
- Sunday Op-ed page: ‘We Do Not Receive Wisdom, We Must Discover It for Ourselves’
- Sunday Arts & Entertainment section: THE BLUES; Bridge Over Troubled Waters
- The New York Times Magazine: GIFTED CHILDREN’S PROGRAMS
‘We Do Not Receive Wisdom, We Must Discover It for Ourselves’
Published: December 20, 1987
To the Editor:
Recently there has been much controversy over the media’s scrutinizing of the past private lives of our politicians, especially those who aspire to high office. Commentators have referred often to the microscope of the media as it peruses the late adolescence and early adulthood of our public figures.
Perhaps while hastening toward November 1988, we need another optical instrument, not that of the media but of literature, to peer into the cloudy region of what constitutes an effective leader. Looking through the focused lens of Marcel Proust’s ”Remembrance of Things Past” sharpens our insight into how we, as an electorate, ought to deal with our politicians and their pasts.
In Proust’s novel, the protagonist’s artistic mentor, Elstir, speaks trenchantly about regret and the attainment of wisdom: ”There is no man however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived a life, the memory of which is so unpleasant to him that he would gladly expunge it. And yet he ought not entirely regret it, because he cannot be certain that he has indeed become a wise man – so far as it is possible for any of us to be wise – unless he has passed through all the fatuous or unwholesome incarnations by which that ultimate stage must be preceded.’
There may be those who ”perhaps have nothing to retract from their past lives; they could publish a signed account of everything they have ever said or done; but they are poor creatures, feeble descendants of doctrinaires, and their wisdom is negative and sterile.”
Elstir continues: ”We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, who no one else can spare us . . . I can see that the picture of what we were at an earlier stage may not be recognizable and cannot, certainly, be pleasing to contemplate in later life. But we must not repudiate it, for it is proof that we have really lived.”
As we move into the final decade of this millennium, fraught with increasing danger and complication, we cannot afford two pristine Presidential candidates. What we need are two experienced politicians. Yes, experience does result in mistakes and failure, which are often an ugly blight on the past. But it also begets the wisdom requisite in a leader to insure America’s continued survival in an uncertain future.
SEAN D. BRADY Vestal, N.Y., Dec. 9, 1987
THE BLUES; Bridge Over Troubled Waters
Published: November 03, 1991
To the Editor:
Studs Terkel’s gnawing doubt about whether a white man can understand a black man’s blues brings to mind two anecdotes and an observation [ “The Blues in Black and White,” Oct. 13 ] .
Leadbelly himself would introduce “Good Morning Blues” — a song Mr. Terkel quotes to close his article — by saying emphatically: “Now this is the blues. Never was a white man had the blues because [ sic ] nothin’ to worry about.” One night 12 years ago, when I was listening to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee on the CBC in Montreal, the only song the old blues men would perform with their guest, the white British blues rocker John Mayall, was “White Man Lost in the Blues.”
But by questioning whether a white man can understand the blues, Mr. Terkel makes the assumption that art — in this case the blues — is culturally limited. Accepting this assumption raises disturbing corollaries. Can a non-Jew understand Jewish pain in the wake of the Holocaust? Should non-Jews then not bother reading the great canon of Holocaust literature? Can a man understand a woman’s point of view? Should men not read literature written by women? Having never disowned a daughter, should I not bother witnessing Lear rage on the heath?
Art transcends time, religion, gender, culture and race. It informs its audience about the human condition in all of its manifestations. That is its magnificence.
I welcome the resurgence of the blues as a frail stay in the rapidly deteriorating bridge between white and black in America. SEAN D. BRADY Binghamton, N.Y.
GIFTED CHILDREN’S PROGRAMS
Published: June 03, 1990
Elizabeth Stone’s article ”Gifted Children’s Programs: A Matter of Class” (May 6) makes clear that a number of hard questions need to be answered if gifted education is to fulfill its mission in this country. However, to persist in debating whether gifted-education programs should exist at all is ludicrous. Consider.
Seasonally, across America, boys and girls compete for spots on varsity and junior varsity sports teams. The small minority who do make the team become the focus of tremendous amounts of money, time and training. Few in our society complain about this elitist practice.
So why is there such a controversy about gifted-education programs? Why do we impose egalitarian values on methods of developing cognitive potential only? Just as we nurture our finest athletes, shouldn’t we nurture our finest minds?
SEAN D. BRADY