Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

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on being sedate

Did you ever notice how on that old original show "Star Trek", the guy who was supposedly the utterly logical Vulcan, Mr. Spock, was actually the most seething cauldron of emotion inside? Fortunately, other than in one episode, we were spared Mr. Spock leering at every female guest star in the way Captain Kirk did,and he rarely exclaimed "My God, Jim!" in the way that Dr. McCoy did. But we all knew, after a few episodes, that while logic may be his ideal, his true inner calling was pure, well-disguised, but inescapable emotion. This is a matter of limited interest in the social setting, as anyone of any age has learned that passion and lip service do not really go hand in hand. But the question of sedateness runs beyond this narrow band.

I think that many of us on the internet are mild-mannered people in our day to day lives. We look in the mirror with serene pride when we get a chuckle from another person with the mildest witty zinger. We recount routine conversations to our significant others as if they were pivotal Encylopedia Brittanica instances of detente. We feel horrible if we display the "wrong kind" of anger too assertively, and feel a bit abashed if any fuss is made over our good times at all.

But I think that people tend to confuse "sedate" with "uninteresting" or "unfeeling". It's true that we can all make an effort to interconnect a bit more, perhaps even to "sell" just a little of where we are coming from to people who don't understand us. But isn't it nice to talk to people who can handle a detailed discussion--let's say a disagreement, a debate or a negotiation, with both assertiveness AND serenity?

I remember doing a research project for a law professor years ago in which I examined issues of the Arkansas Gazette dating from 1820 to hunt for lawyer advertising. In one issue, I found the printed version of a speech given by the chief of the Quapaw native American tribe that lived in Arkansas, given just as they were being forced to migrate to
the "Indian Territory" of Oklahoma. The Quapaw had been friendly to the invading Spanish and their successors the Anglos. They, along with the other tribe, the Caddos, lived a civilized, graceful existence, in many ways.

In the speech, the chief spoke with a quiet power about how he recognized that things were as they were--i.e., a forced migration--and not as they should be--i.e., people who caused no harm to anyone being left alone in what was, after all, their land. This was a man whose people had suffered injustice, and yet he was giving a reasoned, simple discussion of what had happened, trying to make the best of a very raw deal. In a similar vein, I think of Chief Joseph's Nez Perce fighters, who despite suffering depradations and dishonesty, fought only as a device to try to successfully flee to Canada, and refused to attack civilians as they came very near to achieving their goal.
Joseph's public statements included many that were moderate, thoughtful, and even sedate.

I think that it's easy to cloak oneself in the garb of sedate heroes of the past, as an excuse to cover up for one's own sedentary behavior. Certainly, Gandhi, though a man of peace, was anything but sedate in some ways. His journalistic fervor, even as he experimented with utopian communal living, hit a fever pitch one might not call sedate. But I do wonder if being "sedate" or mild-mannered really makes one any less capable or active than more fiery personalities. Is it really personality style that matters, or is it really what we do? I tend to the latter. We may be saved by faith and supplemented by works, but I'm not sure the fire in our belly need always come out of our mouths.

Recently, I've found myself expressing a grievance or two in my life in stark tones. But I want to recapture that sedateness. I want to be a fighter for fair treatment,
but not necessarily a shouter. It's an interesting problem to know when to shout it from the rooftops, and when to quietly insist on what is right.

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