The Measure of a Man – a spiritual autobiography by Sidney Poitier

Following on the goal of reading more autobiographies this year, I just finished this one.


I found it at a used book store in Big Bear and was drawn to it for several reasons. I’ll be completely honest. Here’s the list:

I loved the movie “The man who came to dinner”

I find Sidney Poitier’s eyes beautiful on the cover.

It says “spiritual”. What does he mean by that?

It’s an autobiography.

He’s black, another theme I seem to be following this year. Does that make me racist?

So there you have it, my deep thinking list of reasons! I wasn’t expecting much because he’s an actor and I have very little respect for the profession and it has a sticker on it “Oprah’s Book Club”. But I bought it anyway for the above listed reasons and it was a dollar. And I was floored! I couldn’t put it down and not because I agreed with everything in it. I loved the description of his childhood, his respect and admiration for his parents, his different take on racism in the United States, and his style. I just liked the way he spoke. The book made me add several new books to my reading list and several new movies to my Netflix cue.

Here are some of the quotes that got me early in the book.

“…our minds are actually constructed by these thousands of tiny interactions during the first few years of life. We aren’t just what’s directed by our genes, and we certainly aren’t just what we are taught. It’s what we experience during those early years – a smile here, a jarring sound here – that creates the pathways and connections of the brain.”

“That’s what you’re dealing with when you’re too young to really be counted into anything, when you’re just listening, when you’re watching the behavior of your siblings and of your mom and dad, noting how they behave and how they attend to your feelings and how they care for you when you have a pain or when the wasp stings you around your eye. What occurs when something goes wrong is that someone reaches out, someone soothes, someone protects.”

This, right here, is what I believe is a huge problem in our society right now. Young children are not having positive experiences with their parents. They spend their lives institutionalized instead, with both parents working, and everyone under a lot of stress.

And this,

“When childhood is aborted, it’s like aborted grief. In both cases, if you don’t go through all the stages, giving each its due, the job never gets completed.”

And here’s a line about race that really called out to me.

“Young blacks coming up in America were frequently subjected to parental lectures, almost all of which carried the same message: ‘Face this reality. You’re gonna have to be twice as good as the white folks in order to get half as much.’ That was drilled into them. Bahamian lectures had another ring. ‘Get that education. Get out there and work. Get out there and hustle. Take whatever opportunities there are, and use them as stepping-stones.”

That’s a fundamental difference and I’m sure why he ended up doing so well coming from so little, even in a society very tense about race.

“But when I got to New York, and when I got to Hollywood, for whatever reason or by whatever stroke of luck, I was given the tremendous opportunity of doing work that could reflect who I was. And who I was had everything to do with Reggie and Evelyn (his parents) and each cigar sold and each rock broken. That’s how I’ve always looked at it: that my work is who I am. I decided way back at the beginning, back when I was still washing dishes in a barbecue joint in Harlem, that the work I did would never bring dishonor to my father’s name.”

And that wasn’t because his parents were rich, put him in the right schools, or taught him anything. It was because they were good people and loved him and his siblings. They were there.

A woman he met in an acting class said,

“How we see ourselves, how we see each other should be determined by us and not by people who generally don’t like us; people who pass laws certifying us as less than human. Too many of us see each other as ‘they’ see us. Time for that shit to stop. We’re going to have to decide for ourselves what we are and what we’re not. Create our own image of ourselves. And nurture it and feed it till it can stand on its own.”

I think that is exactly what he did and most people today do not, across all races and creeds right now.

His career path was fascinating. He wasn’t going after being famous or rich. I think he honestly wanted to portray a real black man on film and wasn’t going to let people show him or what who he believed he was in a poor light. He seems honorable.

His family was very important to him. His divorce hit him hard and he felt responsible for what happened. He continued to care for his ex-wife and children even after he remarried.

Politically, I don’t agree with his ideas but that’s typical. I’m still confused as to how anyone can see communism and its precursor, socialism, as a positive thing. But I got some interesting insight into that as well. I’ve added a few autobiographies to the list from this book, people he followed or found to great leaders, a few I’d never heard of.

The whole book was beautiful. He seems like an amazing man, a little self-righteous but then again he’s an actor! I’d like to hear about him from others though. I’m very happy I found this book!

Sharing the Awesome

Several awesome things came up this morning during my reading/study/bible time!

First off, I’m still reading Sidney Poitier’s “The Measure of a Man’. I’m almost done, just a few pages left, but I found this glorious gem this morning.

“Curiosity is one thing; wisdom is another. Maybe neither can fully cover the territory. Maybe one is meant to drive us, the other to beckon us. It’s a question or an answer, boldly stated or subtly implied, that gets me out of bed every morning.”

Right? Curiosity drives us to learn about our environment, it’s inborn in us, wrapped up in our humanity. Wisdom is of this world. We see it in others and it beckons for us to learn more, to delve deeper, to know what they know. Wisdom is not always positive. Strangely enough, I’m also reading Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and this very morning I read about Satan tempting Eve in her sleep, causing her to dream strange dreams. He is beckoning her to wisdom, to be like God. In no way am I saying wisdom is evil and we should avoid it. I’m just noticing there is a difference between the curiosity of a child and the wisdom of the world. Jesus said to come to him as a child, curious and full of love. And Satan beckons us with the temptation of the wisdom of good and evil. Interesting.

Speaking of “Paradise Lost”, I’m really enjoying reading it. I thought it would be harder to read, poetry spelled weird, but I’m really sucked into it. I feel like I’m flying through the pages but I’m slugging along when I look at how far I’ve gotten at the end of the hour. No worries, though. Slow and steady wins the race, right? I’m enjoying my time in these words. It’s like Bible fan fiction. He took a story and expanded on it. The imagery is amazing. Here’s a quote from today that really touched me.

“…the sun, who scarce up risen with wheels yet hov’ring o’re the ocean brim, shot paralel to the earty his dewie ray, discovering in wide landtskip all the east of paradise and Edens happie plains…”

It reminded me of the morning sun in the desert, my earthly paradise. There is nothing to block the sideways light of the morning sun here. It warms the sky, warning us of its coming, then peeks over the edge of the earth, the hills and rocks instead of the ocean, shooting its light across the desert landscape, lighting everything from one side, the rest in shadow. I love watching it every morning.

And I’ve been watching a performance on YouTube of C.S. Lewis (actor portrayed) called “My Life’s Journey”
Today, he spoke the words I was thinking just last week as I drove home from the grocery store. It’s written out here, from “The Weight of Glory”, which is now on my reading list.

Rabbit Holes

W.E.B. DuBois


Strivings of the Negro People

I was led down a rabbit hole! I’m still reading Sydney Poitier’s book “The Measure of a Man” and he mentioned great African-American leaders that he admired. One of them was W.E.B. Du Bois, so I looked him up. I’m still reading the Wikipedia article on him and I’m stunned. Progressives! I just don’t understand how a highly educated group of people can believe that there is a certain class of humans that is just better than the rest and it’s their job to take care of everyone else so they don’t hurt themselves, by force if necessary. Well, I could see how a group of white people could think that; sequestered away at universities all your life, I’m sure you see the world differently, that you can’t imagine how the rest of the world lives, but a black man? A grandson of slavery? I don’t get it. Most of the white progressives didn’t think he was part of his kind but he just thought they were mistaken? I’m confused. I’ve put a few of his books on my reading list though.

Oh! And he shared the idea of pragmatic religious naturalism with John Dewey and others, this idea that you could replace metaphysical religion with a natural or civil religion through the system of government schools. Yikes! I just heard about that idea again through the School Sucks Podcast. Crazy.

And eugenics! What in the world? Anyway.

I’m fascinated with African-American history right now, just a bit. It started with Martin Luther King, Jr. and now I’m finding new autobiography books to read. This one by Sydney Poitier is just amazing. His life, his background, his principles, what he was trying to do with his craft. I’m just so impressed, and that’s saying a lot because I’m not a fan of actors in general. Through his book, I’m finding other sources to read and it’s very interesting. I also picked up Maya Angelou’s book “The Heart of a Woman.” I can’t wait to read that one. I’m really enjoying getting these very different perspectives of the world.

The Disgruntled Customer Argument

We all know the latest debacle, right? Airline overbooks, ask customers to volunteer to be on the next flight, no one does, airline randomly selects someone and it goes downhill from there. My teenage sons have been my source of information on this, so if I’m WAY off…well, consider my sources. What happened isn’t really the focus of my writing today so I’m not going to spend time researching it. What I am here to write about is the conversation my son and I had and what happened right after that.

My younger son expressed his dismay at why no one would leave the plane after being offered a deal to be inconvenienced and why people would sit back and watch as that man was dragged off the plane instead of just saying “Hey, I’ll go willingly. No need for things to get uglier.” We really don’t know what happened, or what was going on in the minds of those passengers but my instinct tells me that everyone there figured they were more important that everyone else on that plane. Personally, I think there’s just a little too much of that happening on the internet. I say on the internet because, in my personal life, where I run to the grocery store, stop by the post office, and drop something off for a friend, I see many instances of self-sacrifice and helpfulness every day, so I’m thinking there are far more instances of awesome than of crap and we’re only seeing the crap on the internet because it’s much more fun to report that you were wronged than that someone gave up their spot in line because you seemed to be harried. But again, I digress.

My son and I chatted for a few more minutes about some funnies he found on Facebook (which I didn’t think were funny but he couldn’t stop giggling about) and then I went on to do the dishes while he worked on his programming class.

I typically listen to podcast radio shows while I do the dishes. I have a list of political, news, and education shows I listen to regularly. I listen and grumble about things I can do nothing about, making a note here and there to remind me to write about it or look up some book or article they talked about. I suddenly realized that I was getting more and more tense as I did the dishes. Why would I torture myself by listening to this? I changed to Amazon Music’s “70’s Folk” channel. By the way, I highly recommend getting Amazon Music. I LOVE it! Within a couple songs, I was singing along, remembering my childhood fondly, and happily washing the dishes. Some songs you knew when you were a kid take on a whole new meaning 30 years later. My husband came in and listened for a few minutes while he ate his lunch. My older son came in and danced with me, probably wondering about the status of my sanity. Things were brighter. And they stayed that way for the rest of the afternoon. I bet I even spread the love a bit when I went to the post office. When people around you are happy or content, you can’t help but feel it even if you don’t talk to them. Happiness is contagious.

So. I think I’ve solved the problem of selfishness, ugliness, and discontent. Turn on the radio. Sing along. And dance.