“The fact that our task is exactly commensurate with our life gives it the appearance of being infinite.” (Franz Kafka)
Where does one begin? I assume this endeavor will be slow going and murky and even tedious. I do not have an office in which to shut myself to keep me from various disappointing distractions, and any effective amount of scotch may shed a hypocritical light on anything I have to say. On an embarkation like this one, an effort to express something greater than oneself, it seems to be ritualistic good form to invoke the muse. But this is not epic poetry like Homer or Milton or Shakespeare and I do not rightly know if the same rules apply to prose anyway, or even non-fiction. If there is a muse for the inspirations I would like to receive, she has not shown up yet (she has undoubtedly learned how to treat me by watching other women in my life), but like Ernest Hemingway says “The shortest answer is doing the thing.” And as Peter S. Beagle says, “If the Muse is late for work, you start without her.” I feel already as though what follows will contain a lot of quotes from various authors and other people of note. It may be important to say that I hope that what has attracted me to their expressions is similar to what may have attracted you to mine. As is articulated by Nietzsche, “Of all that is written I love only what a man has written with his blood… Whoever writes in blood and aphorisms does not want to be read but to be learned by heart.” And Robert Louis Stevenson iterates, “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish.” Maybe Mr. Stevenson would not mind if we borrowed a prayer of his to serve as our invocation to the muse:
“Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Give us courage and gaiety, and the quiet mind. Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies. Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavours. If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temparate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving to one another.”
If there is anything I could ever find praiseworthy in any human individual, it would be consistent sincerity. “There are honest people in the world, but only because the devil considers their asking prices ridiculous.” (Beagle) Sincerity is foundation, potential, greatness. We could learn a great deal from our domestic partnerships with our dogs. They wear their hearts on their fur, to make an idiom precise. And they are unfailing about it. It is naturally difficult for us to believe that any member of humanity that we have encountered, claiming to be sincere and forthcoming, lives up to the diagnosis. At least not without regular examples thereof. Periodic displays of generosity, counseling, leadership, and maybe even things miraculous go undervalued when we presume their bearers to be insincere. (Matthew 12:22-37, for example). Harmoniously, “All decent men must be hypocritical, if you assume that decency can’t exist.” (T.H. White)
We do not recognize sincerity in others because we have lost our enthusiasm to drum it up in ourselves. It is human nature to take things for granted, to submit to the distractions, to disremember where our passion should lie. “If everyone were clothed with integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well-nigh useless.” (Moliere) Our forgetting of the importance of people is directly related to our unwillingness to fling ourselves straight into life. To partake in a little life-experience, to garner an education about the world or about ourselves. “I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.” (Henry David Thoreau) Instead, we accumulate things in our lives, we give our lives complication and attach to them accessories. Things unessential and cumbersome and distracting. We take our own souls for granted and the games we play take precedence over mental, emotional, and spiritual nourishment. “The man who has begun to live more seriously within begins to live more simply without.” (Hemingway) Life-experience leads to self-actualization which leads to the understanding of our fellow man. Essentially we become, for another individual, somewhere to lean when they are out of their depths. More and more members of each generation forget this, contented in their distractions, and the cumbrous concern and collective weight of the human condition falls on fewer and fewer shoulders. “The world is full of willing people; some willing to work, the rest willing to let them.” (Robert Frost) We are comfortable in our unthreatening lifestyles, grasping at our diversions and showing all the efficacy of a lotus-eater. “Feasts must be solemn and rare, or else they cease to be feasts.” (Aldous Huxley) We call it a comfort-zone or a blind spot, but I think the Spanish, in the context of their most famous art-form, the bullfight, have a much keener word. Querencia. This is a safe-zone for the bull in the ring when facing down the matador. In us humans, it represents our bastions of complacency and selfishness. Our excuses for refusing to hit bottom and strip away all that is unnecessary and distracting in order to take up the mantle of our spiritual purpose. These places we feel the safest are the ones we will defend with the tenacity of denial, even if we have to bloody those we love the most when they desire the dismantling of these querencias. We will not give them up, this side of the grave, and will most likely take them there with us. For the drunk, it is the bottle. For the complacent, it is apathy. For the rebellious, it is pride. For the codependent (if you will excuse the term), it is placating in fear. Hemingway describes the Querencia perfectly well, and though the description is long, it may shed light on the tactics found in our human nature:
“Aside from the normal physical and mental stages the bull goes through in the ring each individual bull changes his mental state all through the fight. The most common, and to me the most interesting, thing that passes in the bull’s brain is the development of querencias. A querencia is a place the bull naturally wants to go to in the ring; a preferred locality. That is a natural querencia and such are well known and fixed, but an accidental querencia is more than that. It is a place which develops in the course of the fight where the bull makes his home. It does not usually show at once, but develops in his brain as the fight goes on. In this place he feels that he has his back against the wall and in his querencia he is inestimably more dangerous and almost impossible to kill. If a bullfighter goes in to kill a bull in his querencia rather than to bring him out of it he is almost certain to be gored. The reason for this is that the bull, when he is in querencia, is altogether on the defensive, his horn stroke is a riposte rather than an attack, a counter rather than a lead, and the speed of eye and stroke being equal the riposte will always beat the attack since it sees the attack coming and parries or beats it to the touch. The attacker must lay himself open and the counter is certain to arrive if it is as fast as the attack, since it has the opening before it while the attack must try to create that opening. In boxing Gene Tunney was an example of a counter-puncher; all those boxers who have lasted longest and taken least punishment have been counter-punchers too. The bull, when he is in querencia, counters the sword stroke with his horn when he sees it coming as the boxer counters a lead, and many men have paid with their lives, or with bad wounds, because they did not bring the bull out of his querencia before they went in to kill.”
Maybe what follows will be an easily avoidable dare. This is excusable in the bull, since the command is to die, albeit nobly. But the command for you is to live. To come out of your querencias and join the action. I know that all call-to-arms go largely unmet and most press-gangs are absconded from pretty easily, so I will not be colored surprised if it happens here en masse. Stevenson contradicts the assumption, however, “We must accept life for what it actually is – a challenge to our quality without which we should never know of what stuff we are made, or grow to our full stature.” So maybe somebody will learn what life is for and may duck from under the weight of fear; whether it is fear of work, fear of failure, fear of responsibility, fear of sorrow, fear of magic, or fear of poetry. ‘“All lives are composed of two basic elements,” the squirrel said, “purpose and poetry. By being ourselves, squirrel and raven, we fulfill the first requirement, you in flight and I in my tree. But there is poetry in the meanest of lives, and if we leave it unsought we leave ourselves unrealized. A life without food, without shelter, without love, a life lived in the rain—this is nothing beside a life without poetry.”’ (Beagle) It is my opinion that anybody who still enjoys literature, like people who throw themselves into life with desperate sincerity, and takes it to heart (like all things bloody and aphoristic) already has a head start on becoming well-rounded, dependable human beings. Heroes, if you will. Mountain movers. Shakers of foundations. The benefits of this kind of education is best expressed by T.H. White: “Education is experience, and the essence of experience is self-reliance.” He also conveys: ‘“The best thing for being sad…is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then-to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.”’ We all have purpose, and if nothing else will, fulfilling our purpose will bring us poetry. If we are to raise anchor and become people of purpose, naturally we have to learn a thing or two about moving upstream. We have to learn to develop character because little else will serve as a sufficient rudder.
So, if we must begin learning something, we might as well make good on our transaction and start now. It is not that I have anything new to offer the collective bank of human knowledge, nor is it that my savoir-faire has afforded me some special insight to the human condition. It is only because I consider myself sincere, that I say what I have to say. Sincere and sad, since fruits of wisdom (if you want to call these wisdom; I do not particularly find the term embedded in myself) are unfortunately coupled with sorrow, invariably. It has taken a long time and strenuous throes of reflection over personal life-experience to develop the following “rules”. They are more like observations about the nature (nurture?) of maturity and responsibility that grow from sincerity. Ideas to follow when we get unsure how to treat each other and ourselves. The fact that there are ten of them is no coincidence. They do not each correspond to one or more of the Commandments, I just get the impression that any advices for life, exceeding ten, would be overkill and tedious. Not that we will not reach that point anyway, I am sure. “When you’re good at something, there’s a demand for it.” I suppose it would be unwise (there is that word again) to impose a conscription on those of you who read this. I do not require obedience to any of the rules because I know how blissful commitment to ignorance can be. In any case, enslavement to ideals, no matter how beneficial, is best expressed by White: “There was just such a man when I was young—an Austrian who invented a new way of life and convinced himself that he was the chap to make it work. He tried to impose his reformation by the sword, and plunged the civilized world into misery and chaos. But the thing which this fellow had overlooked, my friend, was that he had a predecessor in the reformation business, called Jesus Christ. Perhaps we may assume that Jesus knew as much as the Austrian did about saving people. But the odd thing is that Jesus did not turn the disciples into storm troopers, burn down the Temple at Jerusalem, and fix the blame on Pontius Pilate. On the contrary, he made it clear that the business of the philosopher was to make ideas available, and not to impose them on people.” And so, for the sake of expediency (and availability):
Rule number one. Never let go of a good thing.
I can hear you think that this sounds like common sense. To which I would reply something to the effect of, “So should all the other rules.” Maybe, then, “a good thing” needs a proper definition. The good things challenge you to better yourself; they are good for you. They are good whether or not you feel good about them, and that is where you have to look and what you have to assess. Good things are not necessarily based on how you feel because emotions change and are duplicitous. I would wager that all of the negativity of human history is accounted for in the unchecked acting on emotions. A good feeling about a good thing is a bonus, but the heart should not take the reins. Not in decision-making. “The strong man is the one who is able to intercept at will the communication between the senses and the mind.” (Napoleon Bonaparte) The things that build you up, keep you in check, and keep you anchored are the good things. Good things, including people, are not the things that placate for you or walk on eggshells around you while you are acting childish. They do not avoid the truth to spare your feelings because you do not grow that way. C.S. Lewis says that “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” Never let go of the things that demand growth from you. The good things will be there to protect you and hold your hand, but they will also teach you to protect yourself and encourage you to learn how to walk and fight and provide protection and encouragement for others. The good things will implore your progression down the right path even when you do not want to go. The good things will not let your self-hatred and self-pity get in the way of your mental, emotional and spiritual maturity. Speaking of self-depreciation:
Rule number two. Do not deny yourself regret, but do not devote yourself to it either. Addendum: The same should be said for catharsis.
“The beginning of atonement is the sense of its necessity.” (Lord Byron) It is part of human nature to hurt other people. And ourselves. We are always burning bridges and providing cases for our damnation. If you do not have room to regret your mistakes and atrocities then you do not plant the seeds to grow and learn from them. Ignoring your shame will only result in your repetition in the things that make you shameful. “After the first blush of sin comes its indifference.” (Henry David Thoreau) He also says “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.” Regret is healthy for you. Every action you commit yourself to has ripples and consequences so far-reaching and unpredictable that no amount of forethought will prevent your conscience to come out completely unscathed. “I’m saying you’ve already done plenty of things to regret, you just don’t know what they are. It’s when you discover them, when you see the folly in something you’ve done, and you wish that you had it do over, but you know you can’t, because it’s too late. So you pick that thing up, and carry it with you to remind you that life goes on, the world will spin without you, you really don’t matter in the end. Then you will gain character, because honesty will reach out from inside and tattoo itself across your face.” (Roger Rueff) Regret is unavoidable, but we should use it in a healthy manner. Self-hatred is an easy and addictive trap to fall into. It feels good to beat ourselves up about the wrongs we have done. It makes us feel pious in a way, and it allows us to continue to feel bad without ever having to do any good. But as Aldous Huxley purports, “Classic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.” Another drug to which we commit ourselves is catharsis. It is healthy when used appropriately, though. It is good to rage every once in a while because it has a similar nourishment as sleep. For the body and the mind. Only after confrontation can we reach understanding. Only after a tussle can we reach catharsis. Sometimes we have to accumulate a few scars for people to take us seriously. Just make sure you do not hurt anybody who does not deserve it, and make sure anybody you chew out is aware that you love them. Be aware that moments of catharsis should not be frequent lest they become addictive. Constant liberation is a form of running away from our problems and duties. It is like hitting rubber with a hammer; an illusion of progress. A cathartic lifestyle makes us busy and sidetracked. As Hemingway says, “Never mistake motion for action.” And as Thoreau says, “It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” In order to avoid drowning ourselves in regret or in the over-exertion of catharsis, we ought to take a look at the next rule:
Rule number three. Accept the consequences for your actions before committing to your actions.
This is a lesson in being decisive and resolute. “Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.” (Frost) An indecisive character usually reflects one unmarked by courage. And, truth be told, courage comes with life-experience and knowledge of the world and it comes with trial and error. Any consequences that we may have witnessed can be catalogued in memory, and any future choice we have to make can be compared to these past consequences. Basically, learn from yourself and from other people. Every course of events in various circumstances follows the same pattern fairly consistently and that is part of the poetry of life. And so, with this knowledge, we must own our successes and mistakes before they happen. We are going to be held accountable for them after they come to pass, so we must show our resolution for accountability while planting the seeds. Maybe that means some of us should be less clumsy when it comes to decision-making. And especially when it comes to indecision-making. There is not so much grey in the world as people would like to believe, most of our crossroads will yield hues more black and white, and I have gathered that maybe some consequences are just hard to bear, which accounts for this desire to call them grey. It is acceptable, in my opinion, to complain about the difficulty of various responsibilities, but they should not dictate our deliberations to commit to them. Right is right, no matter how hard it is. And our fates, and our ideas about saving our own hides should not account in our heroism. It is true, as Albert Camus says, “There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.” At least not in this life, but whose opinion are you really going to care about? Taking responsibility for your actions is no easy task. Most of the things worth committing to may take years to come to fruition and your road may be ugly and dangerous and you may not get any sleep as you go. You may not even get your desired end. “If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good, and the very gentle, and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.” (Hemingway) Keep in mind that the ends do not justify the means. The ends do not even justify the ends. But the means always justify the means. Even if you do not succeed in your endeavors, it should be enough that you do not lose your strength of character in your attempts. Or else you have already lost your right to your desires. But, “If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” (Thoreau) We should choose the right course of action, despite how aggressive their consequences might be to ourselves or to those close to us. Because how are we to lead by example and teach others to do the right thing, come what may? To best clarify this question, all I can say is, when coupled with the other rules, it is easier to tell which actions are right and which are wrong.
Rule number four. See all the angles. Or see enough for everybody else to not know any better. Rule number four and a half. Play only the good angles, even though this is infinitely more difficult. (If you are prescient, you never have to evacipate.)
To be a good strategian, it is proper to understand how your actions will play out. To live a poetic life you will have to learn to direct the consequences of your actions merely by predicting which actions are best to be committed to. If you can understand the potential and probable outcomes for the choices you must make (or avoid) in any given circumstance, then you can understand which actions (or inactions) are best to choose in those circumstances. But even your consequences have consequences and so forth. Now, I am well aware that only one being in existence can truly see all the angles, but hyperbole makes for a good cattle-prod. “Forethought we may have, undoubtedly, but not foresight.” (Bonaparte) In order to see all the angles, we must gather as much information and place ourselves in as many people’s perspectives as may be involved. And in order to see more angles than other people, well, Hemingway has the remedy, “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” It is best to keep our views of things fresh. Our first instincts incline us to view circumstances subjectively and selfishly. It is also beneficial, as heroes and dependable human beings, to also look at them from the shoes of others and also from an objective point of view, disregarding anybody’s stake in the circumstance. It seems like a lot of work, and not many were born with this gift, but there are tools in which to immerse yourself that provide development for such critical thinking. And with enough experience, you can see all the angles in any available circumstance simultaneously and almost instantly. Another way of describing the seeing of all the angles is looking at the whole picture. Yet another way to describe it is lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is a way of thinking that seeks a solution to an intractable problem through unorthodox methods or elements that would normally be ignored by logical thinking. This is a developmental tool that allows you to define the avenues your mind goes down while simultaneously discovering new avenues that may benefit its travels. It also helps to develop a superb memory. Deductive reasoning, when combined with sincerity is a basic contrivance of those successful in intrepidness. It will keep you pragmatic and resourceful and therefore dependable. “The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.” (Camus) For this reason, it is best to only play the good angles. Attempt to leave for posterity as small amount of evil as possible. Make your steps careful and precise and do not hurt anybody that does not deserve it. If you become proficient in seeing more and more angles, you can predict probable reactions from people. You can crawl around inside their heads and repair some the wires that have been disconnected by life, the world, and their own self-hatred. You can predict their thoughts and emotions and apprehensions and give them somewhere to lean. You can become a decent friend and a capable parent, and you can pass these traits along by your example. “There isn’t any formula or method. You learn to love by loving—by paying attention and doing what one thereby discovers has to be done.” (Huxley) Playing a good angle is about precision and accuracy. It will be a confident endeavor, and most importantly, it will be done with conviction. And maybe even consideration. “Wrongs have to be redressed by reason, not by force.” (White) Playing a good angles also involve consistency, as will be shown in the next rule:
Rule number five. Never be unwilling to deal with a problem or right a wrong. Your negligence means the abandonment of your peers.
Fear of consequence is no excuse for negligence. Your fears and misunderstandings should never not be subject to confrontation. Without self-actualization, you are just like everyone else. And everyone else is banal. You may feel sorry for those around you who are struggling, but if this is all that is inspired in you, then you are useless to them. Maybe that is harsh and aggressive, but if you do not think that it is true then you do not love the ones around you who suffer. You have a level of control and capability in any encounter you find, whether or not you are in the middle of it. There is always a level of real help that you can commit to and pity does not stand on its own. Your friends and associates will perceive you as dead weight if all they can draw from you is negligent spectating while they are in the thick of their personal battles. I am sure you have careful denials and defense mechanisms if you are afraid to provide emotional and spiritual nourishment and comfort to your neighbor, but Leo Tolstoy sums them all up pretty nicely, “I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means —except by getting off his back.” There is a degree of self-sacrifice in contributing something worthwhile to the lives of the people around us. You have to be willing to give much, if not everything, in order to make some good in the world. “The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.” (Einstein) Nobody takes a leech or a mosquito seriously and only finds them an annoyance in their insincerity. So if you want to see real change and real progress and leave a real mark on the world before you die, you must lay your life down before it. The risk you run there contributes to your heroism. “Real magic can never be made by offering someone else’s liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back.” (Beagle)
Rule number six. Some things are not difficult to see, they are just hard to look at. It is good to know the difference.
Denial is unbecoming on any human being in any circumstance. Veracity, in essence, is something obvious, although it can be difficult to accept. “Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.” (Tolstoy) We have a natural knack for taking things for granted. It gives us an excuse for not fleshing a thing out and instead we look at it with all its embellishments and misdirection. “Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.” (Camus) We hinder our powers of observation and we drown out our curiosity in fear. We love a good ruse and we are very meticulous about the masks we wear. We express too much shame and are ever willing to conceal a part of ourselves, and over a long enough timeline, we become what we pretend to be. “Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.” (Camus) And as is expressed by Beagle, “…no cat out of its first fur can ever be deceived by appearances. Unlike human beings, who enjoy them.” We commit to distractions to shelter us from the truths that we are unwilling to accept. We bury ourselves under them and make excuses for the covering of ourselves. It only takes a small degree of effort to see and understand the truth, and our determination to not be sincere in this effort is, at base, emotional. It is evidence of another querencia. “Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know.” (Huxley) Because knowing would require that we take up arms for it. And who wants that responsibility? So when things are hard to look at, it is best to muster up all the courage we have and face them head on. Consequences be damned. The truth must be got at, if nothing else. “The hardest thing to remember is that what we each really want is the truth of our lives, good or bad. Not rocking the boat is an illusion that can only be maintained by the unspoken agreement not to feel and in the long run it never really works. Let go of saving the boat and save the passengers instead.” (Kenny Loggins)
Rule number seven. The more things you know are true, the more responsibilities you have. A life marked by caprice reveals a tenacity for evasion.
If we do happen to lay down the masks and strip away the obscuration, then the truth that is left must be acted upon. It must be acted upon despite our emotional stake or the feelings of those around us. If we recognize truth, we must not let others be satisfied with skating by in ignorance of truth. In other words, putting everything on the table makes for healthy relationships. Caprice and coquetry are evidence of insincerity, particularly when a revelation and reckoning is involved or called for. “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.” (Einstein) We ought not let such things slide from the people around us. And doing so, reveals a transparent lacking in desire for their good. It shows a lack of love, because disappointment is the sincerest form of affection. If we did not love someone then we would not care whether or not they hurt themselves or people around them. So if we are to not avoid the truth, then idly watching another living in denial is inexcusable hypocrisy. I am aware that a common response to calling somebody out on their self-degrading lifestyles yields a projection of, “do not judge me,” but silence is enablement and to condone a thing is also to pass judgment. Yet condemnation always gets a bad rap. Tolerance is the great virtue of postmodern thought. But condoning a thing is contributing to it, no matter how tired you are with dealing with it. “The most difficult thing in the world is to know how to do a thing and to watch someone else do it wrong without comment.” (White) Again, silence is enablement. If this were not so, only one third of the angels would have been damned instead of two. Sitting on the fence to avoid confrontation is irritable to everybody in a conflict and it decreases the chances for any soldier to trust those who do so, especially if the conflict ends in their favor. This is indicative of a fair-weather relationship.
I know most of these rules are about negligence and inattention and disregard and non-commitment, but with the internet, television, games-mania, smart phones, bar-scenes, and all our other querencias, are you really surprised? The people who commit to harming themselves and the rest of us are fighters. Granted, to persist in a metaphor, they are closely akin to bulls in china shops. The people who want to see them free of their self-hatred and selfishness and see the lotus-eaters free of their apathy are also fighters. Maybe even matadors. The negligent are not fighters. They are more analogous to the steers who are present at the unloading of the bulls before the bullfight. They are not aggressive like the bulls, they simply want to make friends with them, personifying conciliatory behavior, and lead them into the corrals. However, they often take the grunt of the bulls’ aggression and are often gored and physically pay for it with their lives. So maybe with one more rule addressing the steers, I can be satisfied with my attempts at being thorough.
Rule number eight. Just when doing a bad thing is merely your other option, is doing nothing acceptable. “Only the guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat.” (Jean-Paul Sartre)
Now this is a different boat entirely than the boat that Mr. Loggins mentioned at the end of rule six. This boat is headed in the right direction, and this boat is what rescues the passengers when that other boat has been rocked. This boat has a precise purpose on a difficult course, and on which everybody on board is a member of the crew. Now nobody wants to do an inherently bad thing, but people will not complain much when given the option to do nothing to allay the causes or effects of a bad thing. But as Einstein posits, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” (And idle hands eventually become mutinous.) Spiritual non-violence is suicide when pitted against an intimidatingly strong will and the steers get gored all the same. “The middle of the road is where the white line is—and that’s the worst place to drive.” (Frost) Note that I am not describing survival here. I am not saying we should defend ourselves for the sake of ourselves because I believe martyrdom is the keenest way of leading by example. “Martyrs do not underrate the body, they allow it to be elevated on the cross. In this they are at one with their antagonists.” (Kafka) Martyrdom, specifically, is neither doing a bad thing, nor is it doing nothing. So self-defense in these matters can be a form of retreat. It is pride in our self-importance and fear for our own hide. But neither are we to lay down and be consumed by the self-seeking and then cut our losses and lick our wounds. Placating for those who do wrong to or around us, as has been described, does not show love for them, but fear of them. We do not see them for what they are. When we first meet someone we love, we look over any of their imperfections in favor of how much we love them, and after they have disappointed us, we start to emphasize their flaws and forget about their good qualities. “We always deceive ourselves twice about the people we love—first to their advantage, then to their disadvantage.” (Camus) We find ourselves doing nothing in our disappointment and we give up and we forget about potential. We allow the disillusionment to make us dead weight and we forget about potential. We sabotage and complain and rock the boat and we forget about potential. We do nothing without realizing that doing nothing is doing a bad thing. “We are not what we are, nor do we treat or esteem each other for such, but for what we are capable of being.” (Thoreau) Instead of refining an individual, instead of pruning them, and demanding growth from them, we sit and do nothing and hinder those who have not given up on potential. We get in the way of those who row because capitulation seems like a good idea. We buckle under the weight because we take it personally and we do not lean on the others who row alongside us. “By imposing too great a responsibility, or rather, all responsibility, on yourself, you crush yourself.” (Kafka) And so we give up because we simply do not want to continue, reminiscent of the prodigal son’s older sibling.
Rule number nine. “So few people get what they want, and the ones that do aren’t really the lucky ones anyway… The lucky ones are the ones that do what they are meant to.” (Scott Spencer)
It is not enough to chase after your desires or follow through with your ambition. The people around us will always need our attention, faculties, and self-sacrifice. Anybody can live for themselves and chase their personal ambitions, and if they do not reach their goals, then they compromise their desires and spin their wheels for a few years and get complacent. They reach a dead end and berate themselves for it and do not pick up the pieces. If they succeed in their ambition, they will either find a new ambition to live vicariously through or they will sit themselves down and promptly say, “now what?” Lord Byron says, “Men think highly of those who rise rapidly in the world; whereas nothing rises quicker than dust, straw, and feathers.” Napoleon Bonaparte expresses the problem and implies an answer “The great proof of madness is the disproportion of one’s designs to one’s means.”; “Men take only their needs into consideration—never their abilities.” Meaning they focus more on their ability to receive and not their ability to give when they should be doing the opposite. Instead of giving what we can and doing what we are supposed to, we focus on what we can take, on what our self-entitlement will allow us. I suppose self-sacrifice is not a very agreeable idea which to commit oneself, and selfishness has come back into popular opinion as sort of an asset to have (though it never really left). Neither of these opinions will get us anywhere, at least not for long, and he who believes otherwise makes no effort to learn from natural history. Specifically, symbiosis and commensalism. Facility, everyone has, and facility naturally cannot exist without function. The natural function of any special ability that we may have is meant for the benefit of those around us, and as Einstein says, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” Our capability is something deeper than artificial charity. When we give or when we do, it ought to come from the heart and for the salient benefit of the intended. “To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.” (Douglas Adams) To give altruistically, not expecting or demanding anything in return, is still to commit a transaction. You are not giving something for nothing, but are receiving foundation, a sort of reference point, as you build your relationships with your peers. You gain a favorable reputation and you are leading by example. It does not take much sincere service for you to not be surprised when miracles happen around you and through you, and once you are past this point, you do not want to give up committing to them. Once you sacrifice yourself for the benefit of the people around you, once you dedicate yourself to the growth and development and stimulation and inspiration to those in need of these things, then you can know what it is like to receive them in turn, and appreciate them when you do. And, as C.S. Lewis says, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare” because “if you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
Rule number ten. If you do not know what you want, you do not know who you are, and you end up with a lot you do not want. If you get your priorities straight, everything else will fall into place.
This is a foundational rule. So foundational, that I have placed it last so that it is most likely to leave an impression. Our desires tell us and others a lot about ourselves. They express for us the thoughts that soak up our time and the ideas to which we cling. Our desires define us. Our paths can be predicted just by looking at them. If we do not know what we want, and do not figure it out immediately, then we become stagnant, aimless, and confused. And then we can take no steps towards sincerity. “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” (Thoreau) But of course, as Kafka states, “Start with what is right rather than what is acceptable.” You must dictate your desires with wisdom. The more you know, then the more you know what is important and your desires can be tuned accordingly. Your desires, if directed solely by your selfishness, reflects a sort of ignorance and fear of accountability. Instead, you ought to desire to be devoted to doing the right things. “The most valuable of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it has to be done, whether you like it or not.” (Huxley) Prioritizing in this way will open the door to a life, not led more easily, but more fully. Your successes and rewards will be more lasting and definite and complete. And your failures will be met with more support and resistance. Your solidity will only be matched by your pliability. Desiring to do the right thing will add force to your ambitions and resolve to your endeavors because when you realize that something is worth having, it is worth fighting for. And worth losing over. “Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle.” (F. Scott Fitzgerald) But be aware that you will not struggle alone. And you will not lose forever. “Love will find a way through paths where wolves fear to prey.” (Byron) It is easy to operate once you have your priorities figured out, it is just difficult to prioritize. Therefore, it is more important and essential to your growth. The need of it is concrete and the call for it is audible. If you make the right things your priority, if you place your needs before your wants and the needs of others before your wants and the wants of others, then your life is more easily directed and able to be juggled. You have less restriction and more room to breathe and move around a little. The road on which you travel, and hopefully on which you learn to lead, will be better paved and your footsteps will be better planted. The rain will still fall, but you will not sink into the mud of your own selfish ineptitude. And you will not drag others down with you. Most importantly, you will hold them up when they start to slip themselves. Your conviction will serve as illumination in the darkness and you can test any obstacles by it. And you will know greatness and magic and reward. And, dare I say, perpetual meaningfulness in your existence.
I do not believe everybody was cut out to be a leader, but I do believe everybody is meant to be in a progressive state of self-actualization. Tenaciously heroic, if you will. At least in their own social circles. A sincere life is one hard-led, especially in a society that calls for banality and cocktail parties. “There is an old saying that there is no country as unhappy as one that needs heroes.” (Beagle) Being an example is a daily, personal struggle, and as Carl Sandburg says, “Valor is a gift. Those having it never know for sure whether they have it till the test comes. And those having it in one test never know for sure if they will have it when the next test comes.” Maybe the key to a life marked by bravery is persistence. One thing that can be said about the dogged is that their epitaphs are never written in lies or embellishments; their histories are available for everybody to see, are they not? Everything on the table. In order to achieve our desired reputation we cannot take our aphorisms for granted. We must refresh their meanings from the perspective of every available human experience, whether it be true or fictional, anticipated or biographical. “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” (Thoreau)
It is true that steadfastness does not account for all parts of success. “I always say perseverance is nine-tenths of any art—not that it’s much help to be nine-tenths an artist, of course.” (Beagle) For the rest, we must rely on divine right and grace, if you believe in that sort of thing. Faith and leaps of faith are the ingredients needed for the true and real magic we long to see that make our lives worth leading. There are no miracles without them and life loses a lot of its flavor and luster in their absence. We are meant to do and be good things and most of the time, we shy away from them because we lack the courage to just simply accept them. One should never doubt the possibility of good news, no matter how small the probability of their being true. One can always think, with great conviction, of less probable miracles that have happened. Most miracles go unexpected. But that is our fault, not God’s. If we were more bold, we had learn to expect them. I am sure genuine boldness is a fruit of the Spirit. Even if it is a fruit best served fermented. In order to do the things people regard as miracles, you have to do a lot of self-sacrificial time, and it will not be pretty. Noah’s time at sea, Jonah’s time in the whale, or Christ’s time in the desert, are prime examples. “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.” (C.S. Lewis) In order to do the good things, you must be good too. Or at least try to be. Maybe obedient is a better word. You have to want to be good, at the very least. “Ah, mon cher, for anyone who is alone, without God and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful.” (Camus) You are allowed some relapses, but upon seeing the light of refinement and reformation, and experiencing some of the real magic found there, you ought not try to escape it again. “Don’t look back and don’t run. You must never run from anything immortal. It attracts their attention.” (Beagle) or “Running away will never make you free.” (Loggins) Everybody struggles, sure. But there are alleviations against this. A very keen and easy battle plan, if kept consistently, is to hold a fast and a vigil maybe once a year for the curses you carry. And if you are not at war with any part of your life, then you are not being very sincere and should keep a vigil and a fast for the purpose of unearthing the demons about which you should be fasting and vigilant. This will keep you grounded and anchored and all things beautiful. Twenty-four hours, once a year can be devoted to reclamation of your soul, even for the least capable of people. Today, on this date, happens to be the day I keep mine every year. (This is my attempt at avoidance of hypocrisy, not indiscreet, insincere piety.) T.H. White illustrates grandly the sincerity of this concept coupled with our purpose in gallantry:
‘“If I were to be made a knight,” said the Wart, staring dreamily into the fire, “I should insist on doing my vigil by myself, as Hob does with his hawks, and I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it.”
“That would be extremely presumptuous of you,” said Merlyn, “and you would be conquered, and you would suffer for it.”
“I shouldn’t mind.”
“Wouldn’t you? Wait till it happens and see.”
“Why do people not think, when they are grown up, as I do when I am young?”
“Oh dear,” said Merlyn. ‘”You are making me feel confused. Suppose you wait till you are grown up and know the reason?”
“I don’t think that is an answer at all,” replied the Wart, justly.
Merlyn wrung his hands.
“Well, anyway,” he said, “suppose they did not let you stand against all the evil in the world?”
“I could ask,” said the Wart.
“You could ask,” repeated Merlyn.
He thrust the end of his beard into his mouth, stared tragically into the fire, and began to munch it fiercely.”’
Maybe I should end it with this quote. I am sure you have gotten the idea by now and are tired of the long-windedness. Writing this all down has felt like what, I imagine, would be similar to passing a kidney stone. “An empty stomach is not a good political advisor.” (Einstein) But, what is one more body amongst foundations? And maybe now I can have a little of that scotch. “It is my right. A hero is entitled to his happy ending, when it comes at last.” (Peter S. Beagle)
If I am going to send you on your way, maybe unconvinced of the salience of my efforts, I may leave you with a little recommended reading. Most of the titles I have to offer are considered classics and as Thoreau says, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” Reading, itself, gives us an opportunity to pick the minds of great men who were inspired by their life experiences coupled by their creative faculties. It takes a great deal of self-sacrifice to record the conclusions found after much reflection and deliberation. The reason this is done is to share with the rest of us the fruits of hard-pressed labor. The best books, if read carefully, provide walkthroughs for life and relationships. “Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting.” (Huxley) When it comes to literature, I am of the express opinion that Franz Kafka hits the nail squarely on the head. It should also be applied to television and movies and music and hopefully the books I mention live up to his standards:
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
This novel expresses resolve to benefit the people around us that we love. It involves prime examples of intense self-sacrifice and efficient thinking in solving heavy problems. It displays true courage and patience and even redemption.
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
This is the most educational novel I have read about the intricacies of life and purpose and revelations found therein. There is much valor and heroism contained in this fiction, and it provides infinite refreshing angles at which to look at life. It expresses the human condition almost wholly, and demands many return journeys into it throughout your life.
The d’Artagnan Romances by Alexander Dumas
Once started on The Three Musketeers, the trilogy ought not to be put down. Dumas provides the importance of gallantry and spirit and courtesy when met with various enemies. He expresses the need for good nature in our thickest battles and how hope should be tempered with ability and persistence. Most importantly, he shows the benefits of surrounding ourselves with good things and not letting them go despite life’s attempts to disrupt your pairing. There is also much critical thinking and looking at all the angles, which makes it indispensable.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
It is a shorter book on the list, but its saliency is noteworthy. It provides an alternative lifestyle to that of placating steers. It shows the importance of bravery and creativity when your surroundings call for banality. Even in the face of the consequences. It shows how the world will try to break you when you stand against it and demands that you do it anyway and with applaudable good nature.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
I am under the opinion that anything by Beagle is amazing and useful. His literature is riddled with aphorisms and heroism and the poetry of purpose. The Last Unicorn shows resolve in our tasks despite not always having a clear path by which to see. It also shows the importance of not letting go of the good things and that sometimes they are all we have. It gives a clear picture of tenacious sincerity and of remarkable intrepidness despite the ugliness of the odds.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
A story of redemption, regret, and a call to not commit to defeatism. It deserves many repeat readings because it provides great insight to the human condition, especially in despondent conditions. It shows the importance of fleshing out the motives of those around us and of strategy. It expresses the satisfaction to be found in selflessly acting towards those that need it, without regard to our own hides. It shows what acts of faith may have in store for us in regards to reward and lives worth living. It reveals the need for courage in unsure actions despite ourselves and our selfish desires.