Monday, May 31, 2010

Uncle Ted's letter to his Grandchildren...........


My Uncle Ted is one of those rare individuals who, over the
years of his life, has created a personal philosophy and lives
his life true to that philosophy. Calling him a mentor might be
too strong, if only because our paths have infrequently crossed.
Still, his example has always been clear and present in my
mind. His influence subtle, but powerful. Ted now faces some
health issues. He long ago confronted his mortality and now
faces his future with peacefulness and serenity. I suspect he
views death not as a ending, but as a new beginning.

Over the past month or so, Ted wrote two letters addressed
to his grandchildren. What follows below is the letter that
sets forth the outline, the bedrock, and the origin of his
philosophy. Ted defies classification. My guess is that he
would never believe anything that the suffix "ism" could
be attached to. He is just Ted. My friends, this letter is
fairly long. As a favor, I ask you to read it. Happy Memorial
Day.

"Long ago, the German philosopher Schopenhauer, taught
me a priceless lesson- for any one of us, the only world that
exists is the world that exists in our own mind. The burden
of debate is removed from my shoulders. There is no
argument about your world or mine, or his or hers. We each
have our own. Schopenhauer called it, 'The World as Idea'.

Keep this in mind as I outline my 'Idea' on two things: the
general social nature of humanity; and a small and
overlooked group called the Montanaro.

In Italian, Montanaro simply means person or people of the
mountains. But here I give a more narrow meaning- only
those few mountain people of the Alto Frignano, the highest
part of Italy's Apennines.

Up there, all of my ancestors, and some of yours, survived
in relative peace and independence for countless generations.
I came to know the Montanaro because a 'colony' of them
migrated to the small Chicago area town of Highwood well
before WWI. I was born into their midst in 1930. For my
first 16 years I had the opportunity and privilege to
observe them intimately from the inside.

The French philosopher Rousseau gives us a good start in
understanding the Montanaro and mankind in general:
'The oldest of all societies, and the only natural one, is that
of the family...the family is the first model of political
societies: the father corresponds to the ruler, the children
to the people....The only difference is that in the family, the
father's love for his children rewards him for the care he
gives them, while in the State, the pleasure of commanding
takes the place of love, which the ruler does not feel for his
people.'

Now to self-sufficiency, which Aristotle describes as that
which 'makes life desirable and lacking in nothing; and such
we think happiness to be; and further we think it the most
desirable of all things.' Goethe, another German philosopher,
adds: 'he alone is great and happy who requires neither to
command nor to obey in order to secure his being of some
importance in the world.'

Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese mystic, adds another dimension
and introduces the concept of 'lust for comfort,' which he
describes as, 'that stealthy thing that enters the house as a
guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master...with
hands of velvet, but with a heart of iron.' Next, Thoreau
states: 'many of the luxuries and most of the comforts of life
are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the
elevation of mankind.... let our affairs be as two or three and
not a hundred or a thousand.....simplicity of life and
elevation of purpose.'

This concept of self-sufficiency may appear simple, but in
reality is complex and subtle. My independence, or yours,
depends absolutely upon our not being a burden to others.
That burden is most apparent when I consume an extra
bowl of soup while you do without. As Rousseau said, 'He who
eats in idleness, that which he himself has not earned, steals
it.' But how can I know what I have 'not earned,' when I
know not, because of the world's anonymity, from whence it
comes?

A few definitions: God is the incomprehensible Creator, from
which I am convinced our universe came. And 'Nature',
Dante tells us, 'is the Art of God.'

That nature gives to each and every one of us, and to each
other mammal as well, three basis instincts: to work; to be
with others; and to treat them with compassion. Many will
tell you that this instinct of compassion does not exist, that
in its place is there is one of violence. I think they are not as
mistaken as they are deceptive.

With these instincts and nothing more, Rousseau's natural
society simply appears and then evolves naturally. And it will
grow from one family to two or three, and then twenty, all by
agreement, voluntarily and without force.

I suspect that at one time the earth was covered with such
natural societies, which I often call tribes. Each was 'self-
sufficient,' one was not a burden to the others, Each was
free of mechanical or artificial organization involving force.
Their members were not only collectively, but individually,
self-sufficient, and therefore 'required neither to command
nor to obey.'

Goethe's words of genius deserve yet more comment. At
first, it might appear that he identifies three classes of
humans- Commanders, Obedient, and Neither. But in reality
he names only two- the dependent; and the self-sufficient.
The Commanders depend on the Obedient, without whom
they are nothing. More obviously, the Obedient depend
upon their Commanders. Only the Neither are self-sufficient,
and only they are 'great and happy.'

Eventually, the Commanders gained more and more control.
Today they rule virtually the entire 7 billion of us Obedient
humans on earth. In turn, the Neither, the truly self-sufficient,
are almost extinct. As the Roman historian Sallust reminded
us. 'Few desire liberty; most wish only for a just master.'

Now to the Montanaro I saw. I use the term in the singular
to emphasize its unity rather than the individuality of each of
its members, even though each and every one of them
displayed amazing levels of individual self-sufficiency.

The Montanaro is a most difficult study. It did not exist and
survive in simple isolation, as did for example its pre-
Columbian counterparts in North America- the hundreds of
tribes of Cherokee, Sioux, and Navaho, and of may other great
nations as well. The Montanro survived without abandoning
its instinctive naturalness, even though all around it, in Italy,
and then in America, were exploding segments of humanity,
which were choosing instead to command or to obey.

Those newer societies, which now dominate the earth, I call
the artificial societies of Mankind- planned, built, and
maintained by the forces and powers of their rulers. They
exist and expand through competition between their rulers
and also between segments of the Obedient within the
command of a single ruler.They and the older disappearing
natural societies, such as the Montanaro, are as different as
oil and water.

How well I remember walking with my playmates anywhere in
our town of Highwood. I always sensed that we were under the
watchful and protective eyes of our contemporaries, or the
older children, or the adults. Anywhere and everywhere in
town, I felt at home. I could feel the electricity and energy of a
true family, a community, a tribe, based not on force, but upon
compassion, upon love. This last term, so impossible to define,
Freud tells us is that which 'brings a change from egoism to
altruism....love alone acts as the civilizing factor.'

In those earliest days in Highwood, I sensed that while our
Montanaro tribe had its definitions and boundaries, there
was no exclusivity. Instead, anyone wishing to step within
'our walls' and join us was welcome, and all guests and
visitors were treated with great hospitality.

No member was compelled to remain and was always
welcome to return. And I noticed how easily the definition of
Montanaro extended from those of the Alto Frignano to
other parts of Italy.

We were one community, one family, one tribe- expanding,
contracting, adapting, but always founded upon compassion
and without any authority.

There were no laws, no designated leaders or followers, and
yet justice seemed to flow naturally from only custom,
tradition and freedom of choice. Tragedies and violence
were conspicuous by their absence.

The community itself, the Montanaro, seemed to have a life of
its own, created by its individual members over the
generations; and the lives of those individuals in turn had been
shaped and influenced by the community. We were separate
and were one, simultaneously.

In the Montanaro households there was constant activity.
Friends, relatives and acquaintances came and went- to
socialize, to participate in the challenge of day-to-day living,
or to do both. The line between family life and communal or
tribal life was blurred. But I learned early on that not
everyone was so blessed.

In 1933, my parents bought their one and only house. By
coincidence, there were no Montanaro families in our new
neighborhood. My many playmates were all 'Americans'- a
non-judgmental term for someone with no apparent
connection with a foreign or immigrant culture or language.

My playmates spent much happy time in our house and I in
their homes. There was hospitality in all directions, and never
prejudice.

But in their houses I was always overcome with an empty and
even eerie feeling. My playmates had parents and siblings,
but where were the friends, relatives, and other tribesmen of
the Italian households? There were none. My friends were
secure in their own homes, as was I in mine. But outside, they
were alone, lost in a world of strangers, while I had the
Montanaro everywhere. I grieved for my friends and felt my
parents did too, since they worked so hard to include them in
our lives. The Montanaro spoke little of such things. For them,
compassion was a way of life, not a subject of conversation.

The way of the Montanaro was driven by habit. As Confucius
told us, 'Men's natures are alike, it is their habits that carry
them apart.' The habits of the Montanaro, learned and
ingrained in each of them from infancy, forged them into
strong, courageous, peaceful, patient, and compassionate
colleagues who did not burden others. And, as a result, they
had those feelings of self-sufficiency that made their lives
both 'desirable and lacking in nothing.'

The Montanaro was governed voluntarily from within and
greatly influenced by custom and tradition; not from without
by rules and regulations based on force and authority. Here's
an example:

My father and his brothers had a little trucking business, and
the boys started driving at young ages to help out. One day,
when I was about 14, my father called me aside and calmly
said, 'Primo (the police chief) said you're driving too fast.' We
both understood, of course, that Primo was not mistaken. My
response, equally calm, 'OK, I'll watch it; don't worry.'

Primo could easily have handled the matter from the 'outside'
with a speeding ticket, or, easier still, by turning his head.
But instead he followed a more difficult path- approaching his
good friend on a matter of preserving and maintaining the
tribe's integrity. My father too was similarly burdened. But
I suffered most, ashamed for having thoughtlessly troubled
two men I so admired. Never again did I speed in Highwood.
Such is the way of the Montanaro.

I admire and respect the Montanaro, not so much for what
they achieved, as for what they never abandoned- their
natural and altruistic way of life. They seemed instinctively
aware that, as Thoreau reminds us: 'Luxuries and comforts
are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to
the elevation of mankind.'

How well I remember the wry observation of an older
Montanaro, speaking to one of us youngsters who had not
developed here in America those amazing habits of our
elders. He said, "Allora, t'at trova' l'america", (Well then,
you've found (a path to comfort and ease here in) America).

I was always amazed at how these seniors could effortlessly
and with a sense of accomplishment, turn their backs on so
much ease and comfort and remain, instead, steadfast with
their lifetime habits. For them, doing without gave not only
no pain, but an obvious sense of inner satisfaction and
contentment.

One of Highwood's older ladies told me once, "La miseria
la gh'era d pertutto, al la, gent' eran' contenti lo stresso."
(there was privation everywhere but people were happy
anyway).

But more recently another said to me, "I mei i ghan'
tutto, na son' sempr' preoccupa'", (My kids have
everything and yet they still worry).

In spite of what the Montanaro did not have, and the
exploding lust for comfort I see in today's world, there
has been no progress but only change. Emerson said it
well, 'Mankind never advances. It undergoes continual
changes: it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is christianized,
it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not amelioration.
For everything that is given, something is taken.'

As I compare the way of the Montanaro with that of the
world's seven billion people, my admiration and respect
for the Montanaro only expand. The lessons I learned
from them in my early years are without equal.

I pass these 'Ideas' along because you may find them
of some use as you adjust the courses of your own
lives over the years.

Remembering all the Montanaro who have gone
before us and my three dear cousins recently departed,
Germana Bernardi Braglia, Piero Galli and his brother
Adolfo,

Ted Pasquesi April, 2010 "

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