In literature and philosophy one of the things you learn at an early stage is, to look beyond the obvious.
Or that which is apparently obvious.
The great works of art, especially in poetry, often have layers of meaning to them. And not just one or two layers. But several, in many cases.
In life, this kind of knowledge can be crucial: that the surface, the apparently obvious, the first impression, the things you hear and see with the ‘naked eye or ear’ can be completely misleading.
This fact is made use of in marketing: use images and ideas that are easy to grasp, are part of common knowledge and that way, sell – chocolate, cars, or clothes.
That’s why advertisements are often full of stereotypes, such as the wonderful housewife and mother. The cool and always superior father, the cute kids, who never complain, except when chocolate is becoming scarce… and so on, and on…
Why is this misleading, though? Aren’t there cute kids around? Aren’t there wonderful housewives and mothers? Or the superior father – not to say passionate lovers?
Of course there are!
But they are not always the only thing to know about or the most important aspect of a person.
Stereotypes exist everywhere and are almost countless.
A particularly impressive because very colourful one, connected with heaps of imagery and at the same time so easily dismantled is that of the passion of Spanish natives as opposed to that of the average European, supposed to be far more sedate in outlook:
bluntly put, unfortunately, that’s just complete bullshit.
What the emblematic image conjures up in the mind is the Flamenco dancer, clapping, stomping, scowling, accompanied by apparently fierce musicians strumming the guitar and the sad, sometimes fierce songs of, among other sources, the gypsies in Spain. They had been chased and abused for centuries and Flamenco, so the legend has it, expresses their fight for life.
The Flamenco as well as other dances considered to be passionate, such as the Tango or the Rumba, has seen for decades now a new appreciation and recognition in countries such as Switzerland or Germany.
Where people are considered to be less passionate, than in other regions of the world.
How is it possible then that among the famous and even in Spain recognized Flamenco dancers, there is a Swiss woman?
Because people take preconceptions and stereotypes for granted. They do not look beyond the image, the impressions, eye and ear seem to convey apparently.
But the truth is: we only understand and recognize what we know.
If our knowledge is marked by stereotypes, stereotypes is what we will see and find.
And that is a great pity!
The above example about apparently passionate as opposed to less passionate human beings is a striking one to make the point:
if we believe in it, the really passionate nature in ourselves, wherever we’ve been raised – and other more subtle aspects of people around us, may completely escape us!
So, go beyond stereotypes! Find the truth, not just the image!
Freedom – a big term, most often associated with flying, the eagle in the sky – the absolute lack of all fetters, shackles or limitations. Is it?
A dream. Even more than that: it is in these contexts – a human emotion.
There are these moments in life – when one is at peace with oneself and one’s surroundings – a fire outdoors in the night, surrounded by friends, music, good food and drink, perhaps.
The mountain top and a beautiful countryside on a day where vision seems endless.
A peaceful day at home, rain splattering against the windows, the rich fragrance of fresh home-made biscuits in the air.
These peaceful moments can convey a kind of freedom, and rich and full living. Perhaps at the core of the yearning: no ties and no responsibilities to be taken care of.
All’s well in the universe.
Yet, actually, there’s more to the idea of freedom. It also makes sense to differentiate. What I have put above is the personal freedom in a human’s life that can happen as an emotion on such occasions. Peace. Or exhilaration.
The exhilarating feeling that high above the world the sky is the limit…
To me, first and last, the definition and from there a repeated emotion of freedom is twofold: define what it is exactly, and why. Find out where it can be found, again.
So, first there’s personal freedom, a feeling perhaps, a strong emotion. There’s also the freedom in political and social life. It actually is the basis for the emotional situations I described above:
In a country, where it is not possible to try and reach your potential, to say what you think where and when you like, to dress how you like or go where you want – just the feeling of freedom, can be hard to find in personal life.
So next comes the question: what if all’s granted, but still, responsibilities are to be taken care of? The responsibility of taking care of a family can be difficult and weigh heavily on the mind.
Where is freedom then?
Freedom is in knowing your own limitations and your ‘escapes’ from routine, if there is one. And, in a community life, compromise. To go for what is good for many.
To find happiness in the small things, because you have figured out or seen what you don’t need to be happy, here and now. Your limitations.
The fragrance of a flower, the peaceful garden.
Dancing with friends, telling jokes and sharing thoughts – that’s what I found to be happiness in everyday life. Conveying the emotion of being carefree and lightweight.
Most importantly I realized that treasuring any moments given to us we feel this way, makes for a freedom that is independent of long trips, travelling the globe, the Bunjee jumping line – or flying into the skies: to know that it’s valuable, to you, your friends, your loved ones, now.
For centuries in many parts of Europe a very distinct idea of the true lady existed: she was never loud, never obtrusive, never swore, did not know the words to describe the bodily functions and if even a hint of the juicier sides of life was made in a conversation she would faint.
This changed in the course of centuries since the advent of the civil society, when first the equality of men was declared and later on the freedom of men, women and even slaves was proclaimed. Step by step the enlightenment and women’s lib movement acquired a foothold in thoughts, ideas and finally in law: even in the late 18th century, when the French revolution started a whole volley of changes, equal rights for all men and freedom for serfs, women were not even considered, much less covered by such laws.
As had been custom since ancient Greece and Rome, the law considered ‘man’ to be free and have the right to vote. ‘Man’ did not mean ‘human being’, but literally the male grown-up of the society. The eldest sons not even of age were often put to ‘look after’ the woman and younger children of the house, when the father (‘pater familias’) was away.
Women were considered to be weak, a lady was something like a hothouse plant, to be kept under wraps, to be protected and hatched and not to be spoken roughly to. On the other hand she also was considered to be less smart than a man, practically dumb, less able to conduct business or study the serious subjects, such as high literature, medicine or law.
During the nineteenth century it became even more pointed when a ‘writing woman’ was likened to a ‘monster’, in so many words, in articles of special ladies’ magazines, books for housekeeping and instructions on how to properly behave as a lady.
Into the 1950s, the seminars and classes for young women were well known in Germany, to instruct the bride-to-be in how to take care of the man, cook, clean the house and dress, the so-called ‘Bräuteschule’. Down to the crossing of legs, the conversation considered suitable and the poise of the head, the shoulders, how to hold cup and saucer, knife and fork. The most cruel expression of this idea can be found in the German version of the fairy story of ‘Cinderella’: two of the daughters are encouraged to cut off their heel or toe to fit her feet into the shoes for the dance – to ultimately ‘catch’ the prince.
All this made for another kind of corset: the strict rules thus creating a restricted range of body movements caused numerous problems for health and well-being. Among them reduced blood circulation especially in neck and shoulders, legs and lower back.
Today we are lucky that in some parts of the world this has been realized and also leads to a potentially more relaxed expression of emotions and thoughts.
I still think an evening dress worn to a ball and the grace of a dancing woman is fine to look at, and feel – but personally I enjoy it so much more, when dress and shoes ‘fit me’ – not vice versa.