*El amor en los tiempos del cólera is a novel published in 1985 by Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez. It is, in part, about what constitutes true devotion–to a person or a cause or a faith–and what has the power to shake that devotion or to increase it. A poet and a public servant vie for the love and attention of an easily swayed young woman, and they all spend their lives struggling and failing to understand what constitutes a truly reliable philosophical foundation for love, faith, or action.
It is, like most works of magical realism, steeped in the culturally and personally problematic idea that perception equals reality, and that the more “reasonable” perceptions are (even if productive of great evil), the more “reasonable” (and therefore tolerable) reality is.
This is why, as far as I can tell, Mengele and his experiments on the Jews in WWII were (among other things), made to seem rational, reasonable, and useful to initially horrified scientists and doctors. This was done by constant repeated public exhortations in vast rallies, by private threats, and by personal appeals to individuals’ particular fears and follies.
Based on what I keep reading and hearing, it seems that, today in the public media as well as in private homes, a lot of people seem to be endlessly engaged in re-configuring the historical narrative they are part of, in the very midst of its unfolding, so that they don’t have to admit culpability in either blocking or encouraging work for the benefit of human flourishing in an unfathomable time.
In a fallen world where human beings are born spiritually disconnected from God and from one another, individual human beings do not naturally assume that the standard of, or experience of, or truth of daily reality lies anywhere outside themselves.
They assume that what they experience as “normal” and “true” is the same for every other human being. They naturally assume that everyone else has the same perspective, values, assumptions, etc., even when they are both part of a particular group that professes to hold certain beliefs in common.
When one human being encounters another human being who has a different set of experiences, a different education, a different personality, a different culture, the first human being will naturally want to “correct” what they see and hear from the other human being so that it mirrors what is familiar to them, what appears/seems “right” and “good.”
If the other human being resists or repudiates his or her efforts, the first human being may become angry or afraid, but he or she will rarely immediately and “instinctively” adopt a mindset of curiosity, discovery, negotiation, education, and a willingness to have his or her personal understanding of human relationships broadened.
Not narrowed, not distorted, not destroyed, but made more accurate, more in line with the reality that human existence is so complex that only God can make sense of it and help human beings function properly within it.
When human beings have their sense of the “rightness” of things shaken for whatever reasons, they become anxious, they feel threatened, they become angry, they blame their anxiety and anger and fear on other human beings, on their circumstances, and even (if they believe in him) on God.
They refuse to trust, to listen to, to cooperate with other human beings for their mutual development as individuals and as members of a community. The more threatened they feel, the more they dig their heels in, and the more they insist on their wants and needs and views as the proper foundation for meaningful interaction and relationships.
If one human being can, by various emotional and social and even spiritual machinations, manipulate others into going along with his or her version of how life should be, then he or she will feel that life is good, he or she is loved, and that, to quote Robert Browning, “all’s right with the world.”
If, on the other hand, that human being does not have available enough verbal agility or money or physical power or other means of persuasion, he or she will feel that life is bad, that he or she is disrespected and hated, that life is meaningless, that human effort is useless, and there is no hope for mutual human understanding and community.
For reasons debated endlessly throughout the centuries, human beings do not, unless possessed of extraordinary awareness and humility, automatically acknowledge that their perceptions may be inaccurate, selfish, even completely counter to those ways of thinking, speaking, and acting that characterize human beings functioning at the highest, most noble levels they are capable of displaying.
This is why, as I believe, based on my particular spirituality, people currently affected by the virus pandemic are working so hard to be good and do good . . . while at the same time expressing anger and frustration that things and people are not functioning the way they “should.”
Very few people who end up dominating the public media can articulate with clarity and logic either reasons for concern or reasons for unconcern. Doesn’t matter what political views they hold. They can only wring their hands, point fingers, say it’s someone else’s fault.
And it’s the same with people OUT of the public eye. The hand-wringing and finger-pointing and whatnot is even worse with them . . . because they are clinging to “their” public figures as proof that they are right . . . when their public figures have just as fearful and distorted a view of circumstances as they do.
As time has gone on . . . here in the time of love and cholera . . . it has become more and more apparent to me (as the example of these tendencies most familiar to myself), that debate rooted in MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY is not clarifying issues, solving problems, creating trust and peace.
And more debate, more often, with more people on more stages, with more supposedly fact-laden statements being thrown around like confettiis not going to make things better. And the opposite is not going to work either: more debate in which participants take supposedly fact-laden statements and try to persuade by stating what fact-checking always reveals as blatant lies.
This is why I try not to listen to anybody’s news and make it the foundation of my reality. This is why, whatever is going on, I am convinced that the virus pandemic will end sooner if people focus on life right in front of their noses, love their families, cherish their friends, respect colleagues and strangers, keep their ears open but their mouths shut, and learn to pray for the courage to think, talk, and act as fully and as daringly and as risk-takingly (yet trustingly) human as possible.