Category Archives: quotes

For a’ that: Part 2

Today I continue my look at virtues that we consider desirable in a good character – if you haven’t seen my first post in this series, you can read it here.

Nothing is more noble, nothing more venerable than fidelity. Faithfulness and truth are the most sacred excellences and endowments of the human mind. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Fidelity can of course be viewed in a number of ways – as a matter of spiritual devotion and adherence to a system of belief, monogamous love and commitment in a relationship, and unswerving loyalty to a leader or cause. Much has been written about all of these aspects of fidelity, but I’d like to draw out what I see to be the common strands from each.

Examine everything carefully. Hold fast to that which is good. – 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Knowing what is right or wrong is the constant challenge in our lives. We each have sources that we draw upon to help us answer this question in every circumstance that we find ourselves. We may rely on a mixture of religious codes, past experience, the experience of others, social norms and cultural standards to help us resolve dilemmas. Once we have decided our course of action, or our course of action is decided for us, there will be many influencing factors that try to sway us from following it. Fidelity is what keeps us on that course, despite how strongly other influencing factors may try to pull us off course. It says much about our strength of character if we can remain true to our cause or course of action in the face of adversity. 

Consider this in your actions – how faithful to your cause or course of action are you?  If you find yourself abandoning your cause or course of action due to other influencing factors, ask yourself if they are worth the sacrifice of such an important virtue. Do others perceive you as being faithful to a cause or course of action?

Here I stand. I can do no other. – Martin Luther

Being faithful to a cause or course of action can be admirable, but it could also be risable. Whilst Luther stood resolute in his accoutability for his actions at the Diet of Worms, none would argue that the stance of King Canute was as worthy. Determining what we should be faithful to is perhaps the subject of another post!

Image credit: fazen.

How’s it going to end?

We’ve become bored with watching actors give us phony emotions. We are tired of pyrotechnics and special effects. While the world he inhabits is, in some respects, counterfeit, there’s nothing fake about Truman himself. No scripts, no cue cards. It isn’t always Shakespeare, but it’s genuine. It’s a life. – Christof

A modern classic, The Truman Show is a must see (if you haven’t already). If you have seen it, isn’t it about time you watched it again?

At the time of it’s release, I think reality shows were at their zenith. A beautifully sculpted and scripted film from Peter Weir sees Jim Carrey at his very best, acting out a serious role that has some comic moments. Personally, I’m a much bigger fan of Carrey in the likes of this role, as I find his zanier roles much harder to watch.

I used to show a section of this film to my secondary school pupils, leaving them to discuss and ponder the ramifications of Truman’s philosophical discovery. All his life he is living in a finite location, being observed. In many ways, the decisions he made were being made for him. What if, when he takes his steps to his new found freedom, it is merely into a larger confined location? Indeed, are we as free in the decisions we make as we think? How do we know we aren’t merely unwitting actors in an incredibly large play?

(Incidentally, I apologise now to many a teenager who never got over this conundrum – sorry. If it helps, you can either logically deduce by probability that we aren’t in an incredibly large play, or merely live with the fact that we are!)

Why mention this now? The character Lauren / Sylvia wears a badge on her lapel asking a simple question ‘How’s it going to end?’ The other day I quoted Thoreau saying ‘Our life is frittered away by detail’. I think we need to spend much more time asking the big questions, and being able to articulate our vision, before we get sucked into what may be quite pointless actions. Comically, Truman can teach us a lot about life.

You can watch it on lovefilm.com, or if you prefer to get your hands on physical media, then you can purchase it at amazon.co.uk.

 

High aspirations

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. – John F. Kennedy

Rice University, September 12th 1962 provided the platform for President Kennedy to utter one of the highest aspirations ever voiced by a leader in a position of great power. His competition to achieve this aspiration was fierce, and a great deal hung on the articulation of such a dynamic ethic of hard work, as the price of failure would be high.
I wonder what the discussion about this speech was like prior to it being delivered? How strong was the opposition to the voicing of such a high aspiration, knowing how possible or even likely failure was?

The thing I love about this quote is the bold statement of intention, but also the rationale immediately following it – “We choose… not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.

In our daily lives, how do we approach the difficult? Do we settle for ‘good enough’ as our aim? To truly transcend that which others have or can achieve requires dedication, hard work and confidence, but it also required the nerve to step out on a limb. What’s the worst thing that could happen – we fail? Look at what we would achieve in the process.

Image Credit: Bruce McKay Yellow Snow Photography.

For a’ that: Part 1

The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

It would be fair to say that this year, I’ve had more time on my hands than usual to consider many things. One question that I have returned to often is what makes a man? So today I start a series of posts concerning the the fundamental attributes of humanity that we value, and I suppose either try to embody, or respect others for displaying.

I thought long and hard about a title for such a series of posts, but I felt that Burns summed it up best in 1795 with his song ‘For a’ that’. In it, he examines what virtues transcend both status and wealth.

My thoughts will not be so grand, but I wanted to note down what I felt to be virtues that we should embody. The first I want to look at is honesty.

Honesty is the best policy – when there is money in it. – Mark Twain

Few people would draw up a list of virtues without the inclusion of honesty – Franklin’s comment about ‘honesty is the best policy’ is suitably twisted by Twain above, as honesty is rarely free from the pressure of other influencing factors. How we balance those factors is the challenge to the integrity of our being.

What therefore prevents us from being honest? Our environment? How others react? Contractual obligations? Our own internal conflict of interests due to our other values?

Interesting to think that if we asked people to rank their virtues, they would probably place honesty at the top of the list. If that is the case, then why do we let other factors get in the way of being honest all the time? Is it a true measure of a man how he can transcend other influencing factors, and hold to the ideal of honesty?

Consider that in your actions. If at any point you choose a path other than honesty, is the influencing factor worth the sacrifice of your highest virtue?

Image credit: Paul Robertson.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life – Henry David Thoreau

What if we could strip away distractions in life, and consider only that which is necessary to live? To undertake such a task in the middle of the 19th century would be incredibly challenging, but it was to this very task that Henry David Thoreau dedicated himself between 1845 and 1854. ‘Walden’ , or ‘A life in the woods’ is a beautifully written book set around a remarkably simple premise, and full of fascinating insights into life itself; asking us to consider what it is that we value.

If you’ve seen the film ‘Dead Poet’s Society’, you’lll be familiar with arguably the most famous line from the book, but to only know about ‘sucking out all the marrow of life’ and not the rest of the book makes us poorer. Indeed, the very paragraph before in the book states this:

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.

As someone who spends a significant amount of time using technology, I love this statement. He exhorts us to concentrate on nature and how it’s rhythm helps us keep order. We’re very quick to look for something else to help us with such tasks!

Thoreau encourages us to keep our affairs small in number – again, a great challenge for us today with our technological distractions:

 Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.

Outside of those in religious orders, I don’t think I know anyone that does this. We seem to live such complex lives, but his challenge to us is to pare back and consider what it is that we seem concerned about that is important. His reason as to why we do not do this is striking:

I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface to things.

Brutal. Yet alarmingly true. All too often we don’t consider the depth of a subject, and go along with something because it’s easier to do so, or perhaps expected that we do.

Much of the book is rightly concerned with answering the question of being solitary, and whether we require society. Concerning property and posessions:

I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have more than is sufficient while others have not enough.

Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes of friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change.

On morality:

Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant’s truce between virtue and vice. Goodness is the only investment that never fails.

On self discovery:

…be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.

Why did I read Walden? I read Susan Maushart’s ‘The Winter of our disconnect’, where she and her children undertook a similar exercise with technology. Throughout the book, she referred to Walden, and I felt there was a great gap in my reading, or indeed my understanding of how we approach material possessions or artifacts in life. Whilst the focus of the book centres around his experience in the woods and what it taught him about value and social interraction, the book was really written as a political treatise. Indeed, the final section of the book ‘On the duty of civil disobedience’ is a bold questioning of government. I have no real interest in this section of the book, as my interest was piqued by how we approach our attachment to materialism.

Would I recommend it? Yes, I would. Whilst some sections make for difficult reading, his turn of phrase at times is beautiful. To spend time considering such a fundamental question of what do we need in order to live a fulfilled life, we could do a lot worse than spending some time reading Thoreau – even if we too arrive at his conclusion:

I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.

The joy of a book this old is that you can find it for free to download in Project Gutenberg.org, or if you prefer a physical copy, then get it here at amazon.co.uk. Enjoy!

Image Credit: StarrGazr.

Know thyself

Man, know thyself, and thou shalt know the universe and it’s Gods… – The Oracle at Delphi

The origins of this quote are disputed, as I’ve read it as attributed to Pythia the priestess at Delphi, Egyptian theology, Gnostic mysticism, Socrates or Aristophanes, but whoever said it first, gave us something wonderful to ponder. To many people, their introduction to this quote was the film the Matrix, as the Oracle had it written above her kitchen door.

This year, I lost four months of my working life to anxiety. When you undergo such an experience (and would hope you never do), it causes you to question many ideals that you hold, and to get to the heart of the question of who you are – work after all forms a very large part of our persona.

The quote really asks us to work at understanding the microcosm of our existence, as it reflects or forms part of the much bigger macrocosm. How we live and act, plays a tiny part in a much bigger interconnected environment. In life, we are often presented with tasks or challenges that seem very big to undertake, or that will have consequences far beyond the locus of our being. Work first at knowing yourself, and your actions and achievements will maintain a consistency with your inherent values – the very things that make you, you.

Image credit: Erwss, peace&love.

If you’re reading a good book, you’re not wasting time.

At school I was taught English by a chap named Richard Maudsley who would have us start each lesson in silent reading with the phrase “If you’re reading a good book, you’re not wasting time”. He would then sit quietly working on something himself, whilst the class read the book they had each brought with them.

Whilst I may not have enjoyed school much, I loved these five minutes at the start of his lessons. It was wonderful to be given time in school to do something you had complete control over without any interruptions. Occasionally, he would look up during this five minutes and ask someone what they were reading. He’d ask them to briefly summarise it, and to say what they thought of it so far. Clearly a well read man, from his own experience he would then suggest other books that they might like to read if they were enjoying that one, or if they weren’t enjoying it, make other suggestions that they might like to consider.

There has never been a better time to read than now. Public libraries are an absolute goldmine, and online there are cheaper and cheaper ways to buy books, or to read books for free from the vast online libraries that exist.

Each Thursday, I’ll share my thoughts about a book that I have read that has made an impression on me. Where it exists online for free I’ll share a link to it, so that you can read it yourself. Where it doesn’t exist online, I’ll share a link to amazon.co.uk where you can buy it for yourself. Please note that I am affiliated to amazon.co.uk, so I may recieve payment for any purchase you make as a result of following a link from my site. In no way does amazon.co.uk influence the choice of titles I may discuss.

Image Credit: T1m0thy77.

Decay is inherent in all compound things…

Decay is inherent in all compound things. Strive on with mindfulness. – Sidhartha Gautama

These are attributed to be the final words of Gautama, and offer great focus on some of the hardest challenges we face. Compound is difficult, and something that needs hard work and careful, considerate thought in equal measure. If we want things to work, then we need to be mindful not just of where we are or where we would like to be, but cogniscent of where we’ve come from too.

My first encounter with this quotation from the Buddha was actually a misquote, but equally apt. My introduction to this quote made the second sentence read “work out your own salvation with diligence”, but it seems more likely that the Buddha would be concerned with both strife and mindfulness than salvation and diligence.

Image credit: Mike D. Green.

He didn’t fall? Inconceivable!

Last week I shared my all-time favourite – this week, it’s my close second place.

The Princess Bride is yet another film that I could easily watch with the sound down (this time, missing a cracking soundtrack by Mark Knopfler) as I’m pretty confident that I could provide the dialogue. [you’ve got to note here however – how much of my formal education has received the same memory retention?]

What is it about this film that I love? I suppose it’s the tongue in cheek pastiche of a fairytale – that could be equally watched by children and adults. As a fairytale, it has everything – pirates, giants, an evil prince, a beautiful princess, swordfights, torture chambers, a six fingered man and a fire swamp (I’m probably missing lots of important bits out here!)

As a screenplay, it is filled with wonderful dialogue:

Inigo Montoya: You are sure nobody’s follow’ us?
Vizzini: As I told you, it would be absolutely, totally, and in all other ways inconceivable. No one in Guilder knows what we’ve done, and no one in Florin could have gotten here so fast. – Out of curiosity, why do you ask?
Inigo Montoya: No reason. It’s only… I just happened to look behind us and something is there.
Vizzini: What? Probably some local fisherman, out for a pleasure cruise, at night… in… eel-infested waters…

or this:

Buttercup: You mock my pain.
Man in Black: Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

Perhaps my favourite scene is the interjection into the story by narrator (Peter Falk), reminding you that you are in fact being read this story, which in the intervening period you’ve forgotten. Peter Falk’s character is reading the story to his grandson, who is ill in bed. He stops the story momentarily, as he sees his grandson getting so involved in the story he is worried about his emotional state – so he gives away a little bit of the story to come to ease his disposition:

Grandpa: She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time
Grandson: What?
Grandpa: The eel doesn’t get her. I’m explaining to you because you look nervous.
Grandson: I wasn’t nervous. Maybe I was a little bit “concerned” but that’s not the same thing.

Which got me thinking – would we interrupt a chain of events in order to help someone we love, if we could?

About ten years ago I was given William Goldman’s fabulous book by a colleague, and it proved to be an even better read than the film – I’d heartily recommend it!

“As you wish…”

image credit: oxygeon.

The only true voyage of discovery

The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is. – Marcel Proust, The Captive.

In our fast, bright and shiny society, we are encouraged to seek out the next best thing, and constantly strive to experience the new. Perhaps our greatest challenge lies not with seeking the new, but re-examining the familiar? Perhaps we would be better served by stopping to consider anew that which surrounds us that we possibly take for granted – that which maybe, just maybe in our frenetic lifestyle we pass over all to quickly as we seek out the next best thing. Do others see what we see? If you stopped and looked at what surrounds you today, would you discover something new amidst that which you know so well?

image credit: Librairie du Voyage – Rennes.