New England children’s book Illustrator Tasha Tudor was a dear friend of mine with whom I corresponded for decades. On one of my visits to her wonderful home, I met the great, great grandson of Nathanial Hawthorne, Mr. Benjamin Deming, and discovered that he and I had in common a passionate love for the book Education and Ecstasy by George B. Leonard.
Tonight, in preparation for a special Valentine tea time, I was reading a letter I had written to Tasha in 1978 in which I told her what a pleasure it had been to meet the kind, elderly gentleman and discuss Leonard’s book with him. In the letter I shared the following quote from the book which I had all but forgotten but which seems even more needed today than it did when I first read it:
“. . . a faster, more specific, more positive remedy is needed to reduce aggression as well as competition and acquisition. The remedy already is available. It appears to us in the form of an alternative reinforcer that will stir the blood and senses, that will make aggression merely uninteresting. It is joy, delight, ecstasy, the ancient, potent cure so long feared by Civilization, now so specifically and obviously prescribed. Joy resides within the self and is the most relevant of reinforcers.
“Just as many people consider peace simply the absence of war, others think of peacefulness as the absence of aggressiveness. But that is seeking substance in a vacuum. To oppose war or racial hatred by signing petitions and marching in protest may be useful. But those who really want to end these evils might better spend their energy in building situations that are more engrossing, that elicit more of the human potential, that excite the ecstasy in humankind. And those who really want to reduce aggression of all kinds may seek not to work out more punishments against it, but to replace it by creating the conditions of ecstasy. The person who has learned to seek and find intrinsic joy has no time, no desire for aggression.”
OK. I’m pouring my energy into creating those “engrossing situations” and “conditions of ecstasy.” Anyone out there see fit to join me?
The fact is that every day the joys of discovery, curiosity, and creativity are largely denied to at least 49 million elementary and high school students in the U. S. alone. Are the decision makers who insist on and support this outrage hiding their faces in shame?