Irascible Joy

Ask a group of international business executives for their deep-down hunch on which of the two emerging giants — India or China — will survive intact for the long term.  Your results will likely split the field 50/50.

How they answer this question usually comes down to their perception of human nature and where it best thrives. One approach is highly directive and controlling, the other chaotic and unfettered.

Traveling again across central Africa, these two approaches are evident here as well. The big country, wealthy with minerals and spirit, but poor in their application, is chaotic and irascible.

The small, land-locked neighbor on its border is orderly and proscribed. It is marked by good roads, clean neighborhoods and a tamped-down spirit designed to repress the evil, which is thought to be present in expression.

Money pours into the latter and out of the former, but my money — for the long term — is on the one that is chaotic and irascible.

For the harsh irony is this: the suppression of evil is not accomplished by the quashing of expressions, even if words were used to inflame the violence of the recent past. These are a people traumatized by conflict on a scale we naively thought wouldn’t happen again after 1945.  Neither pain nor evil can be denied. The fact that  you can’t see the volcano that figures so prominently in this region’s story (it is usually shrouded in clouds) doesn’t diminish its past reality or future malevolence. It will erupt again. So will suppressed evil and pain.

My wife’s childhood was marked by tragedy and turbulence, a mix that left her relatively unscathed, though her siblings didn’t fare so well. She attributes the difference to her youth; too young to recognize the dysfunction, she was not shamed by it. She was able to address it directly, to look at it, to talk about it, to laugh and cry about it. Thus, her past no longer has power over her.

Though every droop of my Teutonic blood screams against what I’m about to write, I will bet on the chaotic country over the orderly one. The one with irascible joy over the one with suppressed reality. The latter looks better, but the former has more energy to heal. It’s a country of people who speak with their hands, whose worship is a tumult of joy in an ocean of challenge, whose irascible people press on with remarkable strength, courage and joy.


~ by John Walter on October 20, 2011.

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