The Clapping of Tongues

What if I just learned that I had won a prestigious award given to a writer who “casts an ‘unflinching, unswerving’ gaze upon the world, and shows a ‘fierce intellectual determination?’”[i]  Winning the PEN Pinter Prize (honoring one of my favorite playwrights, Harold Pinter) would have put me in good company since past winners include Salman Rushdie and Tom Stoppard.

My writing fits the definition of what the judges are looking for, therefore, I am qualified; they just haven’t discovered me yet. In fact, writing is or should be its own reward. Marcus Aurelius received many awards and much acclaim and disdained all that recognition as so much “clapping of tongues,” an ephemeral and irrelevant recognition. He knew who he was, and he didn’t need the obsequious masses to validate his identity. He was not impressed by worldly accomplishments, even his own.

There are three primary sources of energy driving human behavior. One is the seeking of affection and esteem. Those of us who, like Marcus Aurelius, are self-reliant, see sensations associated with “awards” as an illusion and, in fact, a cause of human suffering. In short, we are not seeking them and don’t want them. We would rather have peace and quiet.

Zia Rahman, who recently won the PEN Pinter Prize, was appointed to be a judge in determining the winner of the Man Booker Prize also awarded to writers. He is British, a holder of two British passports but was described in the media as a “Bangladeshi banker turned novelist.” Why? Because he is the Other. In his own words: “The issue is not what I choose to call myself but what the supposedly educated Briton chooses to call nonwhite British citizens. Britain has a problem with Otherness [emphasis added].”[ii]

What do awards really mean? There is a relationship between awards and “Otherness.” Anytime distinctions are made for any reason between one person and another or one group and another, the motive is to feed the starving false self. Most of us seek security, affection, esteem and power at the expense of others. By putting someone else down, making them the Other or less than us, we feel elevated, safer and more powerful relative to them.

In truth, such behaviors put us more at risk, rob us of authentic power and lower our self-esteem. Rahman is right when he evaluated his experience after an appearance on Dutch television. “I recently appeared on ‘Buitenhof,’ a Dutch TV show, to argue that Europe’s colonial history has left a stain on its psyche, an animus against foreigners.”[iii]  Those of us who treat another person as the Other do indeed suffer “soul damage” as do those who are on the receiving end of those behaviors.

The people of the global village are increasingly alienating each other with these projections. We are in a state of “disintegration.” If we are truly seeking authentic security, peace, compassion and power, we would be working toward “integration” of all the peoples of the planet. Instead what do we see in Europe, for example? “Life for immigrant Europeans is a daily confrontation with micro-aggressions and gestures of alienation.”[iv]

Let’s create awards for the expression of compassion, projects aimed at integration, policies promoting tolerance and festivals celebrating diversity. Then we would all benefit from the best experience available in the global village, a truly satisfying life.

There, I just did it again! I “cast an ‘unflinching, unswerving’ gaze upon the world, and showed a ‘fierce intellectual determination.’” Where’s my PEN Pinter Prize?

The Clapping of Tongues

[i]     Rahman, Zia Haider. “Oh, So Now I’m Bangladeshi.” The New York Times. April 10, 2016, page 6.

[ii]     Ibid.

[iii]    Ibid.

[iv]    Ibid.


Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.

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