January 17, 2008
No Man is an Island
By Andrew Schmookler
In this latest installment of SEEING THINGS WHOLE, the focus is on the famous lines of John Donne. Donne asserts a deep wholeness to humanity --"every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main"-- and thereby raises some important questions: is he talking about the way things factually ARE, or about how he thinks we should FEEL them to be?
"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
Those are the famous words of John Donne.
In terms of the question of "the wholeness of things," this passage raises in my mind a question: in what ways are we talking about the nature of reality and in what ways about how we "should" relate to reality, and what is the relationship between that "is" and that "ought"?
To put it another way: is it really "true" that when the bell tolls, it tolls for me, or is that just a commendable way for me to "feel" about the tolling of the bell for someone else?
It seems "factual" that "If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less..." In what ways is it also factual that I am "diminished" by any man's death? When he says that he is "involved in mankind," does he mean that he has a feeling of involvement? Or is he --and every other human being-- "involved in mankind" whether he wants to be or not, whether he knows he is or not?
And to the extent that we are talking about our feelings of involvement and connection, about whether we choose to feel a wholeness and connection with our fellow human beings, what status should we give that way of being in terms of our understanding of the nature of things, and of the meaning of "Seeing Things Whole"?
Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is WHAT WE'RE UP AGAINST. His previous books include The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution, for which he was awarded the Erik H. Erikson prize by the International Society for Political Psychology.