Being Real

By Jurgen Haver

Editors Note: Jurgen Haver is the husband of Judith Costello, one of Lehman’s Country Life long time contributors.

I went to New York as a young man, with dreams of becoming the next great American novelist! Living in the big city, I noticed something about what makes people “real”.

At that time, I was hanging around people who thought of themselves as “cultured”. At literary gatherings and art shows the conversation always seemed to revolve around which authority you could quote. Nothing was said about what they personally believed. It was always a quoting contest. “So-and-so recently said…”

This seemed strange to me. Using authorities to express ideas meant that every conversation was secondhand. No one was saying or defending their own beliefs. So I decided to test this intellectual snobbery. I quoted from books that did not exist. That way I could state my own opinion without admitting it. I said at one group, “As Albert E. Berry said in his book The Life and Times of Winston Churchill, ‘The truth is…truth is very hard to pin down.’” The fact is there is no such author or book. It didn’t matter. It served my purpose. I could state my opinion through this method.

Then a strange thing happened. People actually began to say they had read the book I invented! Others would disagree with the invented book by quoting some other authority. I would quote other things from this book of my imagination. And the conversations moved to a bizarre level. Secretly, I was very amused by the absurdity of it.

I began to question just how far people would go to try and fit in as intelligentsia. I had just begun to try my hand at painting and I knew I was a failure at it. My works were a disaster, but it didn’t matter. I hung one of my pathetic paintings in the entry hall where it was visible to anyone entering my apartment. Literary friends would stop by and express great enthusiasm for this work.

I said, “Well, you’ll never believe this. But I found that painting at the flea market and I had it checked by an expert. It has been authenticated as an early Picasso.”

I was no longer amazed when people said, “Yes. I see it. This was when he was entering his blue period.”

What does it mean when people who consider themselves the elite, are unable to express honest thoughts? What I have learned since those days of my youth, is that I prefer the company of people who know who they are and don’t need to pretend.

People who are secure in themselves don’t need to put on airs. Being “real” is the highest calling.

Here is our small town, so far removed from the big city, people talk about improving the educational system or how to cope with a gruff neighbor. We talk about what kind of winterizing needs to be done, and what an awesome shade of blue the sky is these past few days. We talk about the chores that need to be done and how to teach our kids to think for themselves.

There is a simple beauty in these conversations. “Real” is when you don’t need an expert to tell you what is true.

About the author: Jurgen Haver and his family live on a farm they call “Sagging Acres” in rural New Mexico. Jurgen has been a business consultant to CEOs and government leaders for over 40 years.

About Judith Costello

A certified art therapist, Judith is the author of numerous articles and books on parenting and child development, including Zen Parenting. She writes from Moriarty, New Mexico.

6 thoughts on “Being Real

  1. Dear Jurgen,
    Your story, which is absolutely hilarious, reminds me of an experience I had a few years ago. I live in Connecticut and was visiting my brother and sister-in-law in New York City. They are both artists and so we went to some funky art galleries in Chelsea. We walked into one place, a converted industrial space, with the walls,ceilings, pipes, etc. painted glossy white, and the cement floor a dark shiny gray. There was soft music playing and everyone was dressed in black from head to toe. I felt a bit out of place in my tan jacket. People were speaking in hushed tones and had gathered around a particular piece of art. This “art” was a large rectangle – probably 12′ x 4′- of pristine white gravel which had been placed very carefully on the dark gray floor. It had a title and a high price. It looked a Florida driveway to me, and at first I thought it was joke. But everyone was so serious! They were looking at it from different angles and making intellectual comments. I kept looking around, trying to make eye contact with someone (which was impossible). I felt like Lucy Ricardo in a comedy skit. I left the gallery and burst out laughing on the sidewalk outside. I concluded that I am not sophisticated enough, nor do I own enough black clothing, to appreciate such avant garde “art”.

  2. Hi Jurgen! I laughed until I cried reading of your experiences! This proves what I have aways known . That is life is all about perception. Most people judge others on how they preceive them to be without really taking time to know the actual person or what they do with their life..
    You would make a good actor as by trade they convince people they are someone different than who they actually are. As for the folks that “read” a book that didn’t exist maybe they suffer from an infeority complex and were afraid to admit they hadn’t actually read a book they thought was important being read by you or missed getting your famous “painting”

    I am glad you have now found “real” people in your life that you don’t have to second guess when they tell you something.

  3. The people who live in the country tend to be more ‘real’ than other people in the city. That’s one of the reason that I live where I do. No quotes from books for me. No admiring sidewalk cement as art for me!

  4. That’s funny Jurgen. I don’t think I’ve run into that level of snobbery before. Close, but that story takes the cake. At least most of the folks I know who discuss books have actually read the book, and will argue over what they thought about it. I had one friend tell me “I agree with the author’s over-all conclusion, I just don’t like how he got there,” and proceed to tell me all the things that pissed her off about the book I’d loaned her.

    Martha256: Just out of curiosity, do you remember what the price was on that patch of white gravel? Our city council out here in Riverside, CA has been trying to convince everyone that Riverside is now “The City Of The Arts”. We use to be “The City of Trees”, but I guess that wasn’t good enough. Don’t get me wrong, art has it’s place, I just think people get wrapped up in it for all the wrong reasons. I don’t think I could bring myself to pay more than the price of the gravel for that Object D’Art you described, and even then I’d want to add a few large rocks and turn it into a Zen Rock Garden. And even then, I’d want to go out once a week to re-arrange the rocks and rake the gravel as a form of relaxation and meditation (which, of course is what a Zen Rock Garden is all about. Doesn’t matter what it looks like, what matters is the state of mind creating it puts a body in. Either way, it’s still only worth paying for the gravel and the big rocks, and that’s only if you don’t feel like going out and gathering them yourself.)

    Irose: I never used to believe that people judge others on how they perceive them to be when I was young. My parents raised me with the simple and naive notion that if I was good, people would see me that way. What a lie that turned out to be! I was first introduced to this concept, ironically, in a book on martial arts philosophy. Later on it was mentioned in another book, and still later I found this same concept mentioned again in a book on anthropology and early human developement. I won’t name authors, since I don’t want to be accused of puttin’ on airs. But it finally got driven home to me after testing some of those “theories” that not only do people respond to how they think the world is, this makes them susceptible to manipulation. As one author put it, “We have a saying “Suspicious eyes will see only evil.” We see what we want to see. If we think of a person as our enemy, everything they do and say will be examined and found to contain threat or insult. While the exact same words and actions on the part of a dear friend will carry significantly different meanings.” Folks like Jurgen here talks about, who are so concerned with appearance, become easy to manipulate by either catering to or denying them what they want or need. In this case social acceptance, and for them that social acceptance was to be gained or lost by who could out-quote the others, who could demonstrate that they were the most “well-read”. I have no doubt that in their eyes Jurgen’s stature went up a few notches when he mentioned a book and author they’d never heard of. Insecure folks like that are easy to manipulate by playing on their fears. Now on the other end of the spectrum, you find folks that are so all fired sure of themselves that they’ve become regid and inflexible in their views, and you can discuss anything with them.

    We just lost two of our volunteers at work, because their father is the most prejudiced and intolerant bastard I’ve never met. He’s never been into our shop, never talked to any of us. His girls are friends of one of our other volunteer’s daughter and they got all excited about helping us out during the holidays in return for stuff they wanted in the shop. Now the shop I work at carries supplies for historical re-enactors and we also stock religious supplies like candles and incense. The has a saying “Freedom of Religion Means ALL Religions, Not Just Yours.” So we carry items from various faiths. Well, as soon as this guy found out we had “Wiccan” items, he forbid his daughters to talk about our friend, her daughter, our store….. they have credit with us that they earned by helping us decorate that their father will never let them use. Doesn’t matter to him we carry silver cross necklaces or that the local churches buy their Frankincense and Myrrh from us in bulk or that the local Rabbi buys candles from us for the local Jewish Temple. Nope, he’s convinced that we’re all evil Satanists, and won’t even talk to any of us to find out what we believe. But then, I feel sorry for him too, because that makes him open to manipulation too. All you have to do to piss him off or scare him is bring up something different than he believes in. It’s really quite sad that he is apparently so insecure in his beliefs that he can’t even discuss them with others.


  5. Sage- Regarding the narrow-minded father – It seems to me that prejudice is a reflection of fear. Fear of the unknown, of something different or strange and shows a lack of trust in one’s own judgment. Otherwise, why would someone be afraid of “Wiccan” objects or beliefs, or of any particular religion? Are they afraid of being converted?
    It is a challenge to raise children in a diverse society where there are lots of choices and information is so freely available. Parents simply can’t proceed on automatic pilot, they need to explain and justify their beliefs, which are constantly being challenged – especially with teenagers! It’s harder for them to maintain control of their children.
    When I was growing up, I lived in a small rural town that was racially and religiously segregated. Everyone I knew was white and Christian. The only difference was whether you were Protestant or Catholic. The Protestants felt somewhat superior to the Catholics, and vice versa, but it really wasn’t much of an issue. Of course when John Kennedy was elected President the Protestants were in a tizzy thinking that he would have to check with the Pope before he could make a decision! This “monoculture” made things easier for parents because they didn’t have to say anything except “Well, we’re Catholic (or Protestant), that’s why we believe or do this or that.” There was no internet, no mall, and no cable TV, no Wicca.
    I never really thought about the monoculture/diversity issue until recently when I heard a radio commentator ask people to send in a postcard if they say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”. They could get a free “Merry Christmas” bumper sticker. Of course, since everyone I knew was Christian, I grew up saying Merry Christmas and I love that greeting. But there was something unpleasant about the commentator’s voice when he made the announcement that made me pause. “If YOU say MERRY CHRISTMAS, send us a postcard and we’ll send YOU a MERRY CHRISTMAS bumper sticker!! The EVERYONE will know that YOU say MERRY CHRISTMAS!” Was there a greeting controversy that I missed? Is one better than another?
    Why should people care if I say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays? And does it have to be one or the other? How about both?
    That’s when I realized that, sadly in this case, Merry Christmas was intended as a greeting for Christians only and the commentator wanted the bumper sticker to somehow proclaim “I’m not one of those OTHER people.” Nuts! How would Jesus feel about that?
    So now I say “Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas” to everyone, and I am grateful for the variety I see around me. And I pray for Peace among all the people of the Earth.

    As for the price of the gravel art – all I remember is that it was several thousands of dollars. It was VERY nice gravel, after all!


  6. Martha: One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that people who are “being real” don’t seem to have any problems with defending their beliefs because they are quite secure in them. When asked a question about them, the “real” people will calmly answer the question. Many of them will smile and take the opportunity to expound upon how they see the world. But people who are unsure, or insecure about their beliefs will get annoyed, or angry, or will do nothing but quote from their holy books instead of putting some effort and thought into what they believe in. Another thing that I’ve noticed over the years, is that people who don’t have their beliefs challenged from time to time tend to only have a very superficial understanding of their religious teaching, if they have any understanding of them at all. So many people go through life just blindly accepting what they’ve been taught from childhood without ever questioning it. Just accepting the surface reality as all there is, and totally missing out on the rest. For some people that’s enough, at least until that fragile house of cards is threatened with questions they can’t answer. Every person who fought with me, debated with me, argued with me has forced me to think about why I see the world they way I do. They’ve forced me to define my beliefs, to examine them, to dig beneath the surface. Sometimes I’ve been forced to change my beliefs based on new information that I’ve discovered. Sometimes the more I dig and research and read only strengthens what I believed all along, what I’ve instinctively felt to be the truth. But I’m thankful for every person who’s ever challenged my beliefs and forced me to defend them, because it’s only given me a deeper understanding of the world. While I find some of them annoying, while some of them make my jaw drop and they make me think “How can any person think like that?” I’m actually grateful when someone challenges my view of the world and presents me with the opportunity to either re-examine my beliefs, or to share them. When I was much younger, I use to get upset when people questioned my beliefs, because I felt threatened that my beliefs might not be “right.” Eventually when I realized that each person’s beliefs are right for them, and them alone….. then it didn’t become a matter of being right or being wrong, only of trying to understand one another.

    I really feel sorry for both this narrow-minded father and for his daughters. It must be aweful to live in such fear, that you can’t deal with anyone or anything different. The very idea of forbidding another person from seeing their best friend because of that friend’s parent’s beliefs, to deny your own child the opportunity to explore, to experience, to grow as a person. It’s just so bizarre to me. And ultimately, this fearful man is going to fail. His daughter’s curiosity will remain. They are going to wonder what it’s all about that daddy is hiding from them. What is the big mystery that they aren’t being allowed to know. If they are anything like all the other teenagers I’ve known, they’ll grow resentful of their father for forbidding them to see their friends, to talk about them in his presence. Telling a child they aren’t allowed to do something? During their most rebellious years? Oh that’s just begging for them to do exactly the opposite. I suppose the only question is whether or not they will choose to think for themselves, or to be controlled and told what to do, what to think, what to believe. Will they accept the surface reality, the carefully structured illussion their parents present them with about the world, how it works, and their place in it? Or will they question, dig deeper for answers, look past the surface. Will they be content trying to view the universe through a crack in the door? Or will they try to grasp the whole?

    I really hope they choose to think for themselves, to examine their beliefs, to research, to experiment, to experience. I read somewhere that wisdom is life’s gift to us. The longer we live, the more we experience, hopefully the wiser we get. And that’s something else I’ve learned about the world, there’s wisdom all around us, if only we choose to see it. I see people everyday going through life with blinders on, eye’s shut, fingers in their ears, heads down, refusing to see or hear all the lessons that life offers, especially when they contradict what they were raised to believe. They keep doing the same thing over and over again, and expect something different to happen each time. Isn’t that the very definition of insanity? How can you expect a person to “be real” when they don’t even know who they are in the first place? When they were never allowed to find out who they really are, what they think, what they believe, how they see the world?

    I dunno, maybe that’s the problem with all those high society types that Jurgen was talking about. Maybe they were always told what to do, what to think, what to believe. Maybe they were never challenged to defend or explain their beliefs? Maybe people who have trouble being real, simply don’t know who they are themselves. Maybe they find it easier to just go along with the popular crowd? Maybe they lack the courage to be an individual? Whatever the reason, it’s really kinda sad the more you think about it.