A Wizard’s Second Rule

In my previous post (which was awhile ago – it’s amazing how an engagement and trying to get wedding plans underway can steal your attention!) I discussed the Wizard’s First Rule from Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series.  Today I move onto the Second Rule. Just as the first had some pretty interesting implications for the average person in everyday life, so does the second.

“The Second Rule is that the greatest harm can result from the best intentions.  It sounds a paradox, but kindness and good intentions can be an insidious path to destruction. Sometimes doing what seems right is wrong and can cause harm.  The only counter to it is knowledge, wisdom, forethought, and understanding the First Rule.  Even then, that is not always enough.”

When Richard, the wizard in training, questions this rule, that kindness can be harmful, the wizard gives him some obvious examples: it may seem kind to give a child candy, but if we continue giving him candy and he stops eating good food we’ll actually be doing harm.  The child will become sick. Another example would be when a person breaks her leg and we bring her food, take care of her.  At first this is obvious kindness, but as the person starts to heal she finds it difficult to walk on that leg, painful even, so we keep bringing food and taking care of her.  The longer we do this, the more difficult it will seem for her to get up, to go through the pain of learning to walk again.  Eventually her legs will shrivel up and she’ll become bedridden indefinitely.  Our good intentions will have caused more harm than good.

The wizard then goes on to discuss the rule in less specific terms, “Good intentions, being kind, can encourage the lazy, and motivate sound minds to become indolent. The more help you give them, the more help they need. As long as your kindness is open-ended, they never gain discipline, dignity, or self-reliance. Your kindness impoverishes their humanity.”

These words really had me thinking.  I could see their truth in the small and the large and realized I had had some of these thoughts before.  I remember meeting 18-19 year old boys, their first year away from home, who didn’t know how to make their beds, do their laundry, or cook themselves a meal. Growing up in a household where my brothers and I were often responsible for these types of tasks at a young age, it shocked me that others weren’t.  I’m sure it was just a result of their parents trying to be kind, to take care of their babies, but they then ended up sending those babies – turned young men – out into the world without the basic skills to take care of themselves.  A minor example, that could be rectified easily by the boys finding people to teach them how to do these tasks or fumbling through to discovery themselves . . . but still.

The rule also has implications that are much more concerning.  Wisdom and forethought may have told these boy’s mothers that they would be doing a stronger service to their sons if they made sure they at least had these skills. But if the mothers didn’t think about it, what about our government?  How many people are on social assistance for an indefinite period of time – long past the point where they should be able to get out and find their own jobs?  How many of these same people then come to expect support, feel entitled to it, and raise children who have the same expectations and never become contributing members of society? Take it even further, and how many of these people are using that kind social assistance to support their drug or alcohol addictions – call me judgmental, say I’m unaware of the underlying issues, but I’ve met some of these people and seen the way they live – all in the name of kindness, compassion, and generosity.  Wouldn’t it be kinder to spend that money to enable these people to provide for themselves? To let go of their addictions? To overcome their fear of trying to make it on their own? (And yes, there are of course programs out there that do this – and kudos to them!)

The wizard talks about a similar scenario and questions where the fault lays.  Give a beggar a coin because he says he needs it to feed his family.  Now, rather than feeding his family the beggar uses it to get drunk.  In that state he kills someone.  Is it your fault?  Your intention was to help feed a family, but the route you chose to provide that help led to a death.  Could there have been another, wiser, way for you to provide help? He warns that violation of the second rule “can cause anything from discomfort, to disaster, to death.”

Think of your life, as I’ll think of mine.  Are there any ways in which you’re trying to be kind to someone, trying to give help, but really you’re causing harm? But really you’re enabling them to not be as competent, as capable, as able to survive in the world as they could be if you withheld some of that so-called kindness? Think of your own life – is there any way in which you’re letting someone do for you what you could do for yourself and thereby preventing yourself from being the person you could be? Even further – is there any way in which some of these good intentions are causing harm, or could lead to harmful consequences in the future?.  Don’t shun kindness, but be cautious  and thoughtful with what kindnesses you bestow.  Be a wise wizard 😉

A Wizard’s First Rule

White-haired and -bearded wizard with robes an...

White-haired and -bearded wizard with robes and hat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple months ago I posted about my new interest in fantasy – based on one of my brothers encouraging me to read his favourite fantasy series.  I’ve now gotten through the second book – an almost 1000 page delight and am taking a break before delving into the next . . . 10 of them I believe.  As well as having great characters, actors, and the type of writing that goes from character to character, leaving me frustrated that it’s another 80 pages before I get to find out what’s going on with so and so (but that is also a great trick to keep the reader reading), the book also poses some questions that I can take back to my life.

I’ll be careful not to drop too many (or any if I can) spoilers in consideration of those who may decide to pick the story up, but some of the things that have me thinking are the rules all wizard’s need to know and understand as they progress with their wizardry. I’ve only been introduced to the first two – but look forward to learning the rest.

The wizard’s first rule is simply that, “given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything . . . They will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they’re afraid it might be true. People’s heads are full of knowledge, facts, and beliefs, and most of it is false, yet they think it all true . . . they can rarely tell the difference between a lie and the truth, and yet they are confident they can, and so are all the easier to fool.”

In the novel, the wizards use this as an intricate part of working their magic, at times the magic is little more than this knowledge – people believe they’re being controlled by magic when really they’re being controlled by someone else’s wits.  Now, the ellipses in that passage are where I took out the wizard saying ‘people are stupid.’  I took it out because, although that is true, sometimes there’s more than stupidity at work.  Sometimes, as it says, we believe a lie because we want to believe – sometimes it’s about faith, or hope, or – as he mentions – fear, deep fear, rather than just stupidity.

I think it’s that wanting to believe a lie, or fearing the truth of lie, and so believing it is what messes us up.  Think of the person who is told they’re stupid, unworthy, not enough . . . they believe these things.  Not because they want to, but because they’re so afraid they may be truth, that some unnamed part of of them takes over, telling them they are in fact truth.  On the other side, think of that woman who stays with the man everyone tells her is no good, simply because he tells her he’ll change, they’re meant for each other, she’s the only one who can help him be better, everyone else just doesn’t understand.  She wants it to be true, needs it to be true, because if it isn’t what does that say about how she’s been living her life? and so she believes.

Go further down into the rule and if we haven’t found ourselves in the first two parts, we can probably find ourselves in the next.   “People’s heads are full of knowledge, facts, and beliefs, and most of it is false, yet they think it all true.”  I know I’ve found myself there.  There were things I had believed so truly, so firmly – and at last I had to come to doubt the truth of their validity.  I wonder how much more is out there, how much I firmly believe that deserves to be assessed – that I need to figure out for myself to know whether they are things of truth (at least as far as I or anyone else can define truth), or things I just believe to be true because I was told so.

Going further still, I wonder how often I am still faced with a lie, believe it to be truth, and so am blind to being able to tell the difference.  I try to believe the best of people, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and have often believed words when repeated actions have shown me different.  I feel that I am outgrowing this . . .  which makes me both sad and proud.  I want to believe the best in people.  I want to trust that the people around me are well-meaning, and honest, and people I can believe.  But after years of having friend after friend consistently let me down, take advantage of me and show through various small actions that they were not actually the friend I’d believed them to be, the friend I tried to be toward them, I’ve had to realize that I can not always choose to believe the best in people. (I’m happy to say that the friends I currently have, and let remain in my life for the long term are people I can believe).

Knowing and fully understanding the wizard’s first rule has two purposes for the skilled wizard.  The first is to be able to use this rule to work his magic upon others (hopefully for the greater good, but this is not always the case.)  It’s a part of the rule I’ll probably try to avoid. . .though I suspect I may end up using it on my future children a time or two – only for the greater good of course!  The second reason is to be aware, so the wizard never lets the rule be used against himself.  This is the reason why I’m holding onto this rule.  People try to use it all the time.  Hopefully, I won’t find myself the witless victim again. And hopefully now, neither will you!

Visit sometime in the next week to hear about the Wizard’s Second Rule – I found it even more thought provoking!

Controversy – is it an art?

I’ve often wondered why, in our society, controversial so often means ‘good’. You see it in visual art . . . now call me snobby, or call me uneducated, or call me whatever you want, but from my perspective a lot of modern art is ‘art’ because it has, in the minds of the viewers, pushed the boundaries, broken through established conventions, challenged people’s perceptions of what art is – it’s been controversial.  And being ‘controversial’ seems to be all it needs to be to be deemed worthy.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some ‘modern’ art that truly was all of these things and irrefutably (if anything can be irrefutable) art as well.  It was skilled, it was intricate, it was creative in ways that are beyond the scope of  the average person’s ability.  I’ve also seen some of this art that in all honesty my nephew could have done when he was four . . . in fact, my nephew’s work was probably better and yet his paintings and constructions certainly aren’t selling for thousands, or millions.

This has been true of music, movies, and, in my area of expertise, books.  I wonder if maybe the true test of whether a work is worthy of its notoriety is if when the subject matter ceases to be controversial the work is still gripping, engaging and without a doubt a true work of art.  I think of The Heart of Darknessat the time it was written the book was definitely pushing boundaries.  Now it’s viewed as racist by many, at the time it was the opposite – it showed snippets of humanity in individuals the average Anglo-Saxon, and the author’s audience, saw as inhuman.  That aspect of it is certainly no longer controversial but I’ve still read the work three times and been captivated for different reasons with each reading.

A Clockwork Orange is another book that certainly received much of its fame from its controversial subject matter.  Although not quite as controversial as it once was, the content still is controversial but I feel even as the shock of its content becomes less shocking people will still continue to read and discuss that work 20 years from now.      Now I didn’t really like the book that much myself but it was interesting.  I believe the author has dismissed the book, largely because of the movie and the glorification that created of things he didn’t intend to glorify – but still it lasts.  Which brings me to the motivation behind this post.

I bought the book Lolita in the spring.  I ordered it largely because it was 17th on a top 250 books list.  (I believe this was the Barnes&Noble list but I can’t seem to find it now.)  I started the book with high expectations and have been consistently and increasingly disappointed.  I began in May, it’s now the end of August and I’m barely 3/4s of the way through.  I think I’ve read five or six other books since I started.  I haven’t completely given up on it yet and that’s largely because I’m holding faith that there’s a reason for this book’s high ranking (besides it being ‘controversial’).  I’ve looked on several other Top Book lists and it’s consistently pretty high up there, and often above the other two books I mentioned.

The fact is though (in my opinion at least) it’s boring.  Now I wouldn’t generally just throw that word out there so easily but the author is long gone and really, that’s my big problem with it.  It’s boring, and wordy, and self-important, and does little to engage.  I find I can hardly get through 2-4 pages at a time without losing my interest.  Much of the narrator’s reams of description frustrate me to the point of putting the book down, annoyed that he’s wasting my time like this.  Now maybe the last 100 pages will drastically change my mind, I’ll see why this novel gets such high praise, and I’ll recant my words . . . well some of my words . . . no matter how good the end is it probably won’t negate the fact that the path there could have been more interesting and, quite frankly, written better.

Now some of you may really be thinking that I sound snobby and uneducated.  Please show me the error of my ways!  Show me what I’m missing here that would make this the worthy read I was hoping it would be!  Because right now the only reason I can find for this book holding the position it does is that Nabokov wrote about a topic that made (and still makes) people uncomfortable.

Have you read Lolita – what are your thoughts?  Am I missing something?  What do you think of art and controversy – how often do you think having the latter creates the former in the eyes of ‘the masses’?

“For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

Last night I came across a section from Kahlil Gibran’s, “On Children.” As I read, I reflected on my own experience with my parents, the experiences of my siblings, the stories I’ve heard from people’s experiences with their  parents, and the experience I hope to create for my own children one day.  His words seem wise.

However, I debated whether to post about it.  After taking my niece to see Brave today, a movie that’s central theme is the struggle and broken bonds that can develop from parents not allowing their children to be who they are but rather trying to shape their children into the person the parents think they should be, I thought again – maybe this is something to share?  Still I held back.  After coming home to a conversation that brought up the matter again, I decided to include this excerpt.

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, 
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

(For the full write-up click here)

For the most part, I’ll let Gibran’s words speak for themselves.  The one thing I’ll say is that one of the other reading’s I’ve been doing stresses that genuine love respects the individuality of the beloved and  seeks to cultivate that individuality. I hope that when I one day become a parent I’ll remember the words above. . . even if it means accepting a child who despises the act of writing! 😉

The Hero’s Journey

Wizard's First Rule

Wizard’s First Rule (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the exception of  The Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia (which I got started on before I reached double digits), I haven’t read very many fantasy books.  I’m not sure why.  I loved both of them.  They took me to places my normal reading choices don’t go.  At one of my brother’s suggestion, however, I recently started reading Wizard’s First Rule, the first book in Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series. It took me a few pages to get into it, but I’m now thoroughly hooked.

A month or two ago my father sent me a link to a writing resource: Hero’s Journey. It’s a webpage that outlines for writers the steps a typical hero takes throughout their journey. I found the resource really interesting and although I seemed to inherently realize and incorporate many of the aspects of a hero myth, I also realized ways in which my ‘heroine’ was missing a few key steps that could strengthen the work, making it more believable.  In reading Wizard’s First Rule, in which the steps of the myth are so much more clearly represented (actually dealing with a hero, a magical world, enemies, etc.), I’m seeing the way in which the values of the myth, the way the steps affect the inner workings of the character’s mind, are so crucial to creating a hero or heroine who people can root for and connect with, truly wanting to follow them on their journey.

As I’m finishing the first draft of the novel I’m working on and about to do my first full read through; seeing what needs to be added, removed, and rearranged, I don’t think I’ll be adding any epic battles or wizards to the story of a young woman from rural Nova Scotia, but I will try to be more aware of the inner journey she takes and the outside influences that need to help shape that journey.

And who knows, if I get fully engrossed in the world of The Sword of Truth  maybe novel number two will actually have a magical world, fights to the death, and a dragon or two!

* Fellow writers – any stories of ways in which you’ve had fun incorporating the hero myth into works in a modern setting?

It takes too long?

The other day I was talking to my twelve year old niece.  She said she hated reading. Obviously, as a writer and an avid reader I was not overly happy to hear this.  She said reading was boring and why would I want to read when I could run on the beach or play catch or do anything else.

Now running on the beach or playing catch are definitely worthy activities, no argument there, but it upset me that she didn’t seem to think reading was too.

Just today I saw my niece and noticed two of her novels laying around.  The two of which she finished in less than a week.  And when I asked her about it, she still asserted that she hates reading.  I asked her if she liked the books. Sheepishly she replied, “yes,” and so I asked her again, “You hate reading?”  “Yes,” she replied.  We stared each other down for a moment.  “Why?” I questioned.  With a smile and a chuckle she answered, “cause it takes too long,” then left the room.

Now, before I entered this line of questioning I wondered if her “hatred” for reading was based on some outside influence – friends who said reading was for nerds or made fun of her for reading. And so, even though she obviously did like reading she insisted on stating the opposite.

After the line of questioning I think I’m even more disturbed.  I know that my own attention span has slackened over the years thanks to all the stimulants around us – tv, internet, texting, messenger – a plethora of things that leave us “multi-tasking” away our days, and which isn’t multi-tasking at all, but just never really focusing on one thing.

Reading a book is one of the few things we have left that we can’t really mix-in with our multi-tasking.  Yes, you can read a book while doing other things, but it’s really difficult.  When reading, you can feel that pull to ignore whatever else is around you and focus on the page. And when we let ourselves focus? That’s when we’re able to really let the book take over our minds.  Be it becoming wrapped up in some other world or letting someone else’s thoughts mingle with our own – broadening our horizon and frame of reference – focusing on a good book, letting ourselves actually take the time to focus, is worth it.  It’s one of the few activities we still have where our attention isn’t pulled in multiple directions.

Even though my niece says she hates it and says reading takes too long, I’m glad to know she reads nonetheless.  I look forward to the day when she says she loves it!

As a side note, we went to the beach this morning and ran and played volleyball. Now my niece is contentedly sitting in the sun room…reading.