Exploring the Underbelly
I love that word, underbelly. It sounds like a vast, hidden anatomical expanse of a tremendous person or animal. A place that is seldom seen. Secret and shameful. And figuratively speaking, that’s exactly what it is.
Cities, families, governments, people, churches, clubs, companies, political organizations – they all have underbellies, or dark sides. The thoughts and behaviors roiling around under cover greatly affect the superficial surface. It can be fascinating and often confusing to study what lurks beneath.
Much has been documented showing that the more rigid, strict, and rule-bound a person or organization is, the more pronounced the underbelly. No point in belaboring the case of the Catholic church, but there’s an example. Mystical, secretive, bound in dogma, unquestioned and until recently, inviolate. A perfect nurturing ground for the dark side.
Police departments. They’re there to protect and serve, to enforce the rules. Yet some officers and administrators are egregious criminals who undermine their own stated goals.
The Masons, the Knights Templar, the American Red Cross….
In Seattle last year, the popular hell-fire pastor of a huge four-square church was found to be having an affair with a male prostitute. (His wife stood by her man.)
My friend Alan, a mental health therapist in Salt Lake City has hair-raising stories about his observant Mormon clients.
So often when some cad is arrested for an outrageous homicide, the neighbors say, “I can’t believe it. He seemed like such a nice guy.”
My friend Jane the call girl (see her posts on my site) tells me that wealthy, authoritarian, upstanding executives often like to dress in baby clothes and be spanked.
Your wide-eyed mayor in your home town kisses your baby and takes huge bribes which will allow buildings to collapse.
Goldman Sachs. A company that cultivated a proper, conservative image and knowingly pulled illegal maneuvers that cost millions of people their homes and jobs.
The only surprising thing about any of this is that we are surprised by it. But we see moral dualities all around us all the time.
You Don’t Have to Look Too Far
We’ve been tossing around the idea lately on this site, that Merida has an underbelly. Criminal, sexual, moral, financial, whatever you can think of. Merida is a Catholic city in a Catholic country and of course there are huge dualities. Don’t be horrified. It’s the same in any other city.
Check out the Merida zocalo. In the daytime, it’s a place for families. Children run around eating colorful junk food their parents buy from the numerous vendors. The kids play on the structures and with each other – it’s a huge, innocent playground.
Around 7 p.m. things start to change. The families beat a hasty retreat, as they see the night people taking over the benches and walkways. Young boys approach older men, strike deals, and slither off together. People exchange small envelopes for money. Pimps and shills whisper at passers-by and thieves cautiously display their wares. (Good place to buy a watch.)
Take a close look at historically restored Pioneer Square in Seattle. By day it’s full of cheerful tourist families but after nine p.m. it’s dangerous. Every kind of opportunistic crime you can imagine happens here. Every variety of predator comes out in Pioneer Square after dark. People inflict inexplicable physical cruelties on the homeless, for no apparent reason. They rob and rough up tourists and locals.
How about Boston? San Francisco? Other charming American cities?
The Dark Side in All of Us
Heaven and hell. Devil and angel. Good and evil. We all work like crazy to balance them, all of our lives. But mostly, we’re in denial about this tremendous duality. Why is it our tendency to see only the “cup half full?” And why is that considered a good thing? No matter how we look at things, bad stuff happens anyway. It seems that we would be better served to look at the cup for what it is – partly empty and partly full. Both.
How can we address dualities in ourselves? How can we face our dark sides? I guess the first step is to acknowledge that we have them. Then we can face them squarely, analyze them, and decide whether they make us or other people miserable or not. It’s a starting point. And we might even be able to prevent some horrible things from happening. Being realistic isn’t a bad thing. If we decide our dark sides warrant it, we need to get professional help before we hurt somebody.
The more tightly we hold things in, the more likely we are to explode or act in ways we don’t want to, ways that are out of our control. Or just be unbearably judgmental of other people. Sort of like some countries. And religions. Much of religious practice is based on the assumption that the world is evil but we can be saved if we follow the (impossible) rules.
Do some people pick up and move to foreign countries in an effort to leave behind the things they don’t like about themselves and build new lives as good guys? Or do they move because they’ve always fought their dark sides and are compelled to express them, but they don’t want to do this where everyone knows them. Hmmmm….
Some people are open about elements of their underbellies.
Remember how Bette Midler used to be before she got all married and motherly and proper? Or Madonna? Or Chris Rock? Margaret Cho? They all lost their naughtiness. What a shame.
These people told it all. They extolled their dark sides, they flaunted them, they sold them. You could pretty much bet that what you saw was what you got. That they couldn’t have been much worse than they themselves were saying they were, so it was all out in the open. Exposing their underbellies and laughing at them was a relief to all of us who listened to them. Hey, we could say. Maybe I’m not so bad after all.
They say good comedians operate out of pain. Real fat guys talking about how gross they are. Women with unattractive features talking about how it feels to be ugly. They are making a living at NOT pretending that everything is okay. I admire that.
On a positive note (oh my god – she’s going to say something cheerful), I think there are people who do not have significant underbellies. Some of you might remember Jeannine, from Belgium who lived in Merida and died a few years ago. Then, there is Jimmy Carter.
But for most of us, it’s an uphill battle.
I know several people who don’t seem to have much of a dark side, but I won’t embarrass them. And there are millions throughout the world who we never hear of because they have no ambition to be known. People who know their flaws and do their best to channel them positively, or give in to them in ways that don’t hurt other people. People who walk through life making the world a better place, quietly. I think of them as people of light.
Here’s someone I’d like to meet.
Global Guru Amma
The Hugging Saint Mother!
By Subhamoy Das, About.com Guide
The Hindu spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi, lovingly called ‘Amma’, and known globally as India’s “hugging saint mother “, Ms “Amritanandamayi”, which literally means “Mother of Absolute Bliss”, was born to a low caste Hindu family in a poor fishing village in Parayakadavu, Kollam, in the southern Indian coastal state of Kerala. Amma began hugging devotees at an early age, and is said to have hugged at least 21 million people over the past three decades. In the 1980s, Amma founded her ashram to receive followers and offer them her healing hugs. There have been times when she has hugged over 20,000 devotees in a row over 20 hours at a stretch. Devotees find it blissful and soul-soothing, and Amma says her hug is her character and “karma to console those who are sad.”
There are no charges for Amma’s hugs.