Monday, January 16, 2012

a Greek chorus lifestyle

As in politics, religion and war, there always seems to be a Greek chorus that brings an imagined perspective and importance to any given endeavor. It is the Greek chorus within that interests me.

Wikipedia describes the original Greek chorus as a "homogeneous, non-individualised group of performers in the plays of classical Greece who comment with a collective voice on the dramatic action." These are the voices that bring 'meaning' and 'connection' and 'substance' to unfolding events. These are the voices that persuade the onlooker's heart -- "I understand," the heart asserts ... and rests easy in that understanding. If everyone says so, or if even some small group credited with a knowing stature says so ... well, I can relax and be assured of both context and truth. I rely on the understanding of mortals like me, mortals like you, mortals like "all of us." The assent of the many is what creates credibility ... until, of course, it does not.

Over the weekend, I watched a number of (American) football playoff games on TV. I'm not a rabid fan of football or of any particular football team, but I enjoy watching people do things well. The game can be pretty exciting. It can also be pretty lackluster. But each of the games had a Greek chorus of men and women who talked and talked and talked and talked, bringing meaning and importance and understanding and coincidentally network income. They strained to make it exciting, even when it wasn't. And after a while, the disconnect between the Greek chorus and the actual game began to weigh me down. The function of the Greek chorus was to gain my assent and participation. But the action itself overrode their blandishments.

Of all the games and teams I watched over the weekend, only one team stood out as bold and excellent and exciting and credible. Sure, the others did what they could, had good plays and bad, but only one team won my actual assent by their deeds ... and that team lost its game ... the New Orleans Saints. It was they who were worthy of Greek chorus chatter from knowing sportscasters attempting to raise the consciousness and understanding of onlookers ... and after a while even that worthiness was unworthy: I didn't come to hear you talk; I didn't turn on the TV in order to attain some group hug of human agreement and accolade ... I turned on the TV to see the actual game ... what actually happened as distinct from ingesting what someone else said was happening, was important, was meaningful. After a while, I turned the "mute" button on.

I was sorry that the Saints lost but I enjoyed the expertise they brought to the field. They were convincing in my eyes. I didn't need other eyes, other wisdoms, other spin doctors to tell me what I saw and what I knew.

They reminded me, associatively, of a time when for several months I would attend rugby matches in Boston on a weekly basis. The Boston team seemed to be made up of rag-tag ex-pats who invariably left the feel bloodied and jolly. They played their hearts out. I never did understand how rugby was scored or the tactics employed. I got a couple of people to explain it to me, but the explanations never stuck. It was the action that captured my heart and I loved cheering for the Boston team. All that and I loved learning what I consider perhaps the fittest word in all of the English language -- the word "scrum."

Politics, religion, war and other much-touted human exercises ... how many of them rely on the wisdom of others in our own hearts? And how many of them as well, however content they are to hand over their understanding to others, run into the disconnect between what is actually happening and what others assure us is or did or will be happening? How much of our lives is run on Greek chorus wisdom and, as a result, runs headlong into disappointment, if not despair?

The Zen teacher Rinzai used to be hell on wheels when encouraging his monks. Over and over and over and over again he told them to stop relying on others ... other books, other teachers, other events, other understandings ... anything whatsoever that was "other." He despaired of the Greek chorus approach to life not because he disdained the desire and need for human connection, but because he knew first-hand (or seemed to) the kind of unhappiness and blurred vision a Greek chorus could impose. "What's the matter with your own eyes and ears?!" he seemed to be shouting. "Make your own decisions. Maybe you will agree with others. Maybe not. But either way, make your own decisions and then correct as necessary. The truth is not a matter of anything else!"

Anything else. Any Greek chorus. Any Democrat or Republican. Any nation or flag. Any virtue or lack of virtue. The disconnects that invariably arise in a Greek chorus life are pretty painful and pretty toxic.

What the hell -- even a brainless, one-celled paramecium knows to get out of the way of toxins. He/she/it does not require a Greek chorus of wise counsel. And if a paramecium can figure it out, it seems like a pretty good bet that we can too.


  1. If you don't really like the chorus, stop being one of it's members blabbing and blabbing everyday. Stop reading the news. Etc.

    Also turn off the volume and watch games in silence.

    Will you miss the gasbags?

  2. Please ignore Bellows. I would miss your ponderings -- and your prose.