Monthly Archives: October 2016

Hildegard’s empathic writing towards her own gender

Something I found interesting while reading the selected writings in Hildegard of Bingen is her repetitive use of ethos in her letters when writing to other women. Firstly, Hildegard will often use a modest tone when writing to other women by portraying herself in a humble manner in her letters: “I, a mere female and a fragile vessel”. Whereas, when she writes letters to men, the structure of her writings slightly differ in the manner that she does not begin with any formality or introduction including ethos, instead Hildegard begins and ends the letter with the contents of the vision, starting from “A certain man rose…” to “…never be destroyed!”. Hildegard also continuously refers to the women she writes to as “Daughter”, “Daughter of God”, “Mother”, displaying further empathy towards these women. In contrast, Hildegard writes in a more distant tone to the Bishop of Bamberg by only mentioning him as “you” and commanding him to do something instead of asking in a compassionate approach as she does with women. The reasoning behind why Hildegard writes in a somewhat discriminative manner in my opinion is due to an unintentional action created by her actual sympathy towards other women who also suffer from gender inequality during her time.

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Hildegard- A sort of Feminist

Men are most naturally seen as the higher sex, based on the social differences between male attributes and female ones. Males are seen as strong and stoic, while females are seen as soft and kind. Hildegard is famous for challenging the idea of females as inferior by presenting both biological sexes with a purpose: Women are made for men, and men are equally made for women.

Today, Hildegard would still be arguing her point as the sexist issues remain. Maybe people aren’t standing up and stating that females are made for men, but these ideas are embedded in social systems. If advertising in the middle ages had existed, it would look about the same as it does now: products reiterating sexuality to make women more appealing to men. The ideas behind advertising fall under the concept that women exist to make men happy. Basically, nothing has changed from the middle ages when people believed women are made for men.

When a woman does something amazing, her femininity is praised with it, for a man, he is simply congratulated. Quite often one will hear, “Hillary Clinton, the first female president”, we will know sexism is gone when Hillary is considered president, not a ‘female’ president. It was a huge deal for Hildegard to be presenting visions from God, and the only way this was possible was through the power of a male. Hildegard would not have been taken seriously if she had not sought the support of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, just as Hillary cannot be taken seriously without public support by male figures.

Although Hildegard’s ideas were progressive for that time, they would not be seen as entirely feminist today. She was seeking acknowledgment for what women bring to the world, but through this she was reiterating stereotypes, being that women are maternal. I can conclude that her ideas are strictly biological, arguing that women have just as much importance in the world based on what they physically provide. The difference between middle-aged feminism and 21st-century feminism is biological vs. social. If Hildegard was alive today, I believe she would agree with feminism because of how strongly she argued for basic acknowledgment of females.

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The power of humility

Dear Readers

After writing excerpts from Selected Writing of Hildegard of Bingen, I found that Hildegard was surely an interesting figure in the middle ages. She was exceptional in the sense her was able to describe many if not all of her extraordinary visions in Latin.  In many occasions, she claims that her visions are inspirations from god. In the middle ages,  receiving messages directly from God was a huge honor and privilege.  Consequently, the person who has the capacity to receive information from God was regarded as honorable and authoritative.

Strangely enough, In one of her letters, she describes herself as “a mere woman ” who delivers messages of the god. In a letter to the pope Eugenius, she writes “Gentle Father, through a small and insignificant figure, I write to you now, in a true vision by mystical inspiration, on all that God wishes me to teach”. However, despite her humility, Hildegard remains “one of the most influential figure in the middle ages” to quote Jason. To an extent, her reverence to god was the source of her authority.  Nobody could disobey the instruction from the divine. Precisely because nobody could see the visions that Hildegard experienced, she became one important source of information. Precisely because people took Christianity seriously,   they desperately wanted to know what God want to say to them. They are a lot less interested in what Hildegard has to say to them. In other words, when Hildegard, tries to emphasize her insignificance,people are more inclined to listen to her .

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Feminism in the film vs. the book

An interesting topic that arose in today’s make-up seminar [Hendricks] was the different ways in which Hildegard was portrayed in Margarethe von Trotta’s Vision and in our Selected Writings text.

What struck me was how the two pieces delivered very different meanings in the context of feminism. Von Trotta is a director with an undoubtedly feminist agenda; her filmography consists primarily of films with strong, independent female figures. Hildegard represents such a character – her story boasts of strength in the face of the misogynistic Christian faith. One area of the film where von Trotta’s feminist agenda is expressed is in the segments of Hildegard’s life to which she adds emphasis (and those which she neglects). Vision skips over Hildegard’s early life in the monastery at Disibodenburg where she would have received most of her theological education, which leads us to believe that von Trotta’s interest lay more in Hildegard’s character than the spiritual context surrounding her. This claim is strengthened by the fact that Hildegard’s visions are very underplayed and implicit in the film; Vision seems to be more engaged with the physical aspects of her life than the metaphysical ones. The film is set during the time when Hildegard establishes herself as a mystic and solidifies her reputation. This coincides with a few occasions where doubt in her is expressed by male members of the church; yet each time, Hildegard is able to stand her ground and rally support for her preachings. This creates an image of a very strong and determined Hildegard to an audience of Vision.

From a more technical standpoint, the feminist agenda can also be seen in the film language in Vision. One technique used by von Trotta that struck me especially was the ways in which the director juxtaposed men and women in the film. The men, who are almost exclusively members of the church, always appear in an inside setting. The overall mood of shots with men in them, for example when high-standing members of the church come to visit the monastery at Disibodenburg to come to a verdict on the legitimacy of Hildegard’s vision, is somber. Faces are often shadowed, and dark colours dominate these shots. This application of mise en scène is heavily contrasted to the women in Vision, primarily Hildegard’s sisters in the monastery. They often appear outside, in the gardens of the monastery, in a bright and colourful setting. There is a strong association made between the women, led by Hildegard, and nature in the film. One concrete example is when the sisters pack their things and leave to establish a new cloister just for nuns – shots of the nuns with their wagons riding through the bright and colourful woods, accompanied by cheerful music, are contrasted to dark and quiet shots of the brothers of the monastery sitting inside, dark expressions on their shadowed faces. Apart from the positive association that von Trotta creates to women, and the negative one to men, the director also uses film language to further establish Hildegard’s strong character. An example in the area of cinematography is that, whenever Hildegard is making a demand of a priest or taking a stand, the audience is shown a close-up up Hildegard’s face. This makes her seem powerful and resolute.

The Selected Writings text paints rather a different picture of Hildegard, in my opinion. For one, the text is not tainted by another persons opinion of Hildegard as Vision is; it merely consists of the visionaries various writings. Undoubtedly, Hildegard understood her place in the world -she realised that, as a woman, she was severely disadvantaged and that she had to act in a meek and subordinate manner so that men would not feel threatened by her. We can see this through the way that she describes herself when writing to important members of the church. And although Hildegard’s actions reflect an important step for women in her time period, I don’t believe that she herself was a feminist. Hildegard did the things that she did not in the interest of women, but so that she could record the words of God that were spoken through her. Another example of this in literature could be Antigone in Sophocles’ tragedy bearing the same name – she rebels against the male-dominated state and its laws but not with that purpose.

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Importance of reflection

When reflection becomes incredibly important to your own survival and well-being, it suddenly gets a huge priority boost. I won’t claim that without it I would literally have died, but for the period that I worked on the pearl farm, I might have come close.

I’ll explain where I was, and what I was doing, before giving the rationale behind my reflective process on the events.

My final exam had concluded on November 6th, and I was ready for a break. My plan was to work for the next 8 months then move to Canada to begin university, but at least for the next week I was going to kick back and chill. That all turned to shit unfortunately, when my good friends father offered me a job. The terms were as follows;

  1. At least 8 weeks, maybe more
  2. Work on a pearl farm, doing manual labor of one variety or another
  3. The work place is an isolated farm in the furthest reaches of the Northern Territory, in a bay 3 hours from the nearest town by boat in Arnhemland, called Gove (Nhullunbuy).


Of course, this would mean living there, without good phone service, for a period which included my 18th birthday (the legal drinking age in Australia, so an important one), Christmas, new year, Hannuka, and Australia Day.

My decision was made 3 years prior to this however, when I decided UBC was going to be my university, so I said yes. Dave, my friend’s dad, went into another room, and – in his usual manner—immediately booked a flight without telling me.


Cut to 50 hours later and I’m sitting in a dongle, sweating profusely in the North Australian wet heat, wondering how on earth I got there, writing in a journal. This is where my self-reflection suddenly became so incredibly important. What I’ll do now, I think, is give a brief account of a few points of reflection which I still have with me, and which I immediately put to use out on the farm.

  1. Be a 0. Don’t try, when you aren’t sure of your own ability, to be a +1, because inevitably, you will be a -1. Here is what happened to lead me to this conclusion. I was on the boat as it was pulling out of the harbor to make the 3 hour journey from Gove to camp. It’s a big ship. The ropes holding it to the wharf were as thick as a man’s thigh, and probably 25 meters long. The call was made to pull them in, and a woman covered in tattoos was dragging one up onto the boat. I was standing around like a limp scarecrow, and desperately wanted to prove myself. With that in mind, I rushed over to Kerry pulling in the rope, and also got a grip on it and tried to pull. It immediately stopped reeling in, so I pulled harder. Kerry told me to “fuck off”, and I suddenly realized that I was pulling the rope at an angle that caused it to jam up against the side of the ship, preventing it from moving. From then on, I stood back until I knew I could have a positive, +1 influence on a situation- which can only come about through this process of self-reflection.
  2. Never, ever mess with animals. This one is less of a personally reflective concept, but I think Mengzi might approve. Animals, in the outback of Australia, want you to die. It’s like the combination of heat, misery, desert, and hunger makes them furious, and almost always out to murder you. Here are a few cases where that turned out to be incredibly true. When I first arrive I was told, “watch out for cigarette snakes. They’re everywhere. We call ‘em that coz if you get bit by one, you just wanna si’down, roll up a ciggy, and ‘ave a smoke, coz… well, it’s the last thing you’ll ever bloody do.” It turns out that the anti-venom only lasts for about 2 weeks, and it’s very expensive- so they just don’t keep it on camp. The venom from these snakes takes about 25 minutes to paralyze a grown man, and with a helicopter, you still wouldn’t make it to hospital in time. I couldn’t believe it when, a few weeks later, I walked out of my dongle to see a 6 foot 4 Estonian bloke staring at a 3ft snake right in the eyes. It looked like he was in a trance, and frankly- so was I- until someone else saw him and screamed “get the fuck away from it! That thing’ll kill ya!”. So I was taught, both through practice and self-reflection, to stay well clear of anything in the bush or water that moves.


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Honoring Ideas

Over the course of history humanity has used literature to express the ideas of countless individuals so that those ideas could be passed down generation after generation. An interesting aspect of Mengzi is that despite being an influential voice in the philosophy of his time, he didn’t write his own book. At the time, books were far too cumbersome to transport and reproduce efficiently. Mengzi, near the time of his death, had a book written by his followers on his teachings, compiled from notes that they had saved. This wasn’t only culturally significant to China; many writings from all over the world follow this pattern, the most prolific being the Holy Bible. The Bible was written after Jesus Christ of Nazareth’s passing by his followers, and could easily be compared to Mengzi (despite its religious significance). Although this differs from our modern method of philosophical writing, there have been numerous examples of contemporary philosophers and writers receiving honoring texts and other works. A good example would be Franz Kafka, and how despite writing in his will that he wanted his works to be burned, his good friend Max Brod decided against this, publishing his larger stories and later compiling his notes and poems into other volumes. The idea of writing about someone after they’ve passed may seem strange in terms of the modern era; books have become so easy to produce that one can take their existence for granted without thinking of their impact on the spread of ideas. Books used to be much more difficult to produce, and could only be reproduced by hand for hundreds of years. Luckily, we’ve had countless individuals throughout history who’ve seen importance in the preservation ideas. Without them, the world would be a much different place.

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Mencius’ teachings now and then

Students nowadays complain about the abundance of books we must buy during the school year. I definitely wasn’t prepared to have to buy more than five hundred dollars worth of books for my first year of university. The only plus side I found besides getting to read new books were the fact that they were not ancient, bulky bamboo scrolls that I would have to lug around campus. In the time period where Mengzi (Mencius) was originally taught, Mencius the philosopher’s ideas were not presented through a book but through speech that later turned into writings on bamboo strips and much later into translated books like The Essential Mengzi that we have today. Mencius engaged with his students directly and his collection of anecdotes and conversations on political philosophy and moral were put together in later days by his followers to continue these beliefs onto later generations. His teachings were passed down successfully as he is someone we continue to read from all over the world due to followers who chose to translate and share his knowledge. Although the book The Essential Mengzi isn’t exactly how Mencius may have explained his teachings before the fourth century BC, his values and ideas were not lost in translation. His ideas on human nature, goodness, and social order are relatable to people in all generations and is what keeps his practices going. Thankfully, we are able to learn Mencius’ beliefs without having to carry around fourteen scrolls that would likely equal to this one short book with commentary that we are able to have in the palm of our hands.

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Being Good in the Eyes of Procedural Crime

You know that a text is on your mind when even when you’re watching or doing things other than reading the text, the text is still able to connect back to whatever you are doing. In this case, I happened to be catching up on NCIS‘ new season. The name of the episode that I was watching was called ‘Being Bad’, and the premise followed as such:

In the beginning, you see a high- school reunion going on. These two men, both very nerdy looking, are walking into the gym when a grade- A douchebag looking guy (you know the type: peaked in high-school, never grew out of it) approaches them and antagonizes them, just as he did back in the day. Neal, the nerd, isn’t really taking him on, that is until Bruno (the douchebag), throws a punch at him. Neal then grabs his arm and flips him over onto his back and delivers this line that made me jump in pride: “Hey, so what’d you end up doing after high-school? I joined special forces.” (1:38). I was like ooooohh my GOD! Yes!

A minute later, Bruno is dead. Poisoned. *Cue NCIS opening theme*

The episode takes a load of turns as the team finds out that Bruno had hidden a bomb in a locker, a bomb that had the ability to kill everyone in the gym. Obviously things aren’t looking good for our douchebag. Tries to beat up a nerd, commit mass murder, and then they find out that he was involved in a major theft ring that Metro PD had been trying to solve for years. He was the guy on the team who broke into the houses and stole the stuff. The latest thing he stole was a painting worth over a million dollars, but no one could find it. As the investigation continues, the team finds out who else was involved in the theft ring; a group of 5 people, Neal (our nerd), included. The other three also all went to the same high-school, and they came up with the idea for a massive theft ring when the five of them (from drastically different social backgrounds and classes), had a Saturday detention together.

It was like the Breakfast Club, just with less musical montage and more illegal activities.

Bruno is really looking like a bad guy here, but the thing is that one of the group members is insistent that Bruno would never want to kill people. Then another group member speaks up and says that he was a nice guy, and that he even staged the fight with Neal so that Neal could look good in front of the ladies. If you want to know what happened to Neal, he kills himself so that he doesn’t have to go to jail. Not before he confesses everything via video and a typed out document, though. Thanks, Neal.

Another bit of evidence turns up when it’s found that right before putting the bomb in the locker, Bruno had tampered with it and deactivated it, so that the ‘pretty girl’ (the mastermind behind the bomb idea) of the ring couldn’t detonate it. At this point, Abby, the forensic scientist, and Gibbs (the team leader), while talking say something that I think Mengzi would definitely agree with:

(This is after finding out about the bomb being deactivated)

Gibbs (about Bruno): Bad on the outside, good on the inside.

Abby: Maybe he got cold feet. Decided he didn’t want to be a depraved mass murderer after all. See, this is why I’m a people person. Because the good on the inside, it always-

Gibbs: Abbs… (and so the dialog continues)


Okay, so Gibbs interrupted Abby when she was JUST getting to the Mengzi part, but I think we can all conclude what she was about to say. That the good on the inside, it always shines through. That definitely relates to Mengzi’s innate goodness theory. When she started to say this, I got unreasonably excited as my brain instantly made the Mengzi connection.

As the episode comes to a close, we find out that Bruno’s landlord killed him to steal the painting for herself, the remaining members of the theft ring are arrested and sent to Metro, and one last piece of evidence for the case of Good Guy Bruno is shown: they found a laptop in Bruno’s car, on the laptop was an email that confessed everything and outed everyone. He never got the chance to send it. Agent Torres tells Gibbs of this development in this exchange:

Torres: … Guess he figured which version was the real him (about Bruno).

Gibbs: The good guy.

(40:40- 40:53)

Basically, I think that if Mengzi was here today he’d really like this episode of NCIS. It showed that even though this guy had stolen millions of dollars worth of items from peoples’ homes, and though the police themselves had absolutely no leads on who was behind it all, he still had a conscience. He showed his inherent goodness, and it shone through. He was literally being a good guy until his last breath, which is sad to think about. But at least in this case, Mengzi’s theory rings true: that we all have the capability to be good.

I believe it too, and I think Abby would also definitely agree.



“Being Bad.” NCIS. CBS, WBBM-TV, Vancouver, 27 Sept. 2016

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Nature VS. Nurture: the Innateness of Human Qualities

Mengzi argued and believed that all humans are filled with an innate sense of compassion, deference, disdain for evil, and the ability to tell what is right from what is wrong. I too believe that humans are born with these qualities; however, I would argue that not all people stay this way for their entire lives. This is where the argument for nature versus nurture comes into play. Although humans are innately good they can be corrupted by how they are raised and what they are told to believe in. Take for example a boy who was raised in a home that was filled with love and respect which began to reinforce the aforementioned qualities, but due to circumstances beyond his control, he is placed into the care of another family. This family treats him cruelly and without love and slowly the good qualities he was born with and that were further nurtured by his original family begin to crumble. His sense of compassion, deference, disdain for evil and his ability to tell what was right from wrong begins to decay resulting in a sentient being Mengzi would refer to inhuman. In conclusion, when people are born they are innately good, but how they are raised is what decides whether that goodness lasts them their whole lives.

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The principles of Mengzi

Mengzi believes that human nature is inherently good and we can become more virtuous through the practice of Ren Yi Li Zhi. First, Mengzi points out that the quality of Ren is the attitude of being kind and always thinking of others. For example, a person demonstrates the quality of Ren when he wants to help an elder lady who falls on the street. Interestingly, Mengzi believes that having the intention to be kind is actually more important than the act of kindness itself, which means even if the person does not end up helping the lady, the virtue of Ren is being demonstrated in the person. Readers can notice Mengzi’s philosophy which places primary importance on what the Chinese refer to as the heart (or mind), that every action is measured by the place it comes from. Similarly, the quality of Yi, which refers to having a sense of justice, is also an element of the virtuous heart inside us. On the other hand, Li, which refers to custom or ritual, is something in our outside reality. For example, if the prime minister of a country wears pajama to visit the president of another country, such action is not in accordance with Li. In order to act according to Li, apart from having Ren and Yi, one also needs to develop the quality of Zhi, which refers to wisdom.  If the prime minister of a country wants to build up friendship with the president of another country privately, it is a good idea for him to wear pajama and have a chat over the dinner table together. Since doing so will make the other person feel more at ease, however, if they were to meet publicly, it is then only appropriate to wear something formal. Mengzi suggests that it is this quality of Zhi which allows an individual to determine what action is appropriate under different circumstances. Once upon a time, Mengzi traveled with his students and they were met by a farmer who took their horse away from them. A student then walked up to the farmer and kindly asked the farmer to return the horse; the farmer ignored the student and kept walking. The student then walked back to Mengzi to seek help, Mengzi laughed at the student and told him what he did was like singing a song to the deaf. Mengzi then sent the horseman to fetch the horse back. Upon meeting the horseman’s aggressive attitude, the farmer quickly returned the horse. After the incident, Mengzi gave a quick lecture to his students on developing the virtue of Zhi. According to Mengzi, we need to enhance the goodness that we are born with and the way to do that is through developing the principles of Ren Yi li Zhi. From the qualities of Ren and Yi we become virtuous inside and through the application of Zhi we are able to appropriately act according to the Li outside.

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