Following on from my post the other day, here is Desiderata, part 2. For those who haven’t read my previous post, Desiderata is a piece of prose full of wise sayings, which I would like to unpack and savour, a piece at a time. I intend to do this once every week or so until I either finish it or feel like I have nothing left to say on it.
Desiderata so far reads “Go placidly amidst the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there is in silence”. The next part which I will focus on today is “As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons“.
I love that term “without surrender”. In order to please others we so often yield to their ideas or their will, in effect becoming a doormat or losing our own sense of self respect. And of course the opposite is also problematic – holding on to our views so strongly as to become pig headed and intolerant, and make enemies along the way.
Why is it important to be on good terms with all persons? Well, who needs enemies? Not only do we benefit from having people on our side (we all need help, and the best results often come from many minds), but we also don’t want to have people who are unnecessarily against us. You may be surprised how easily doors can close and how people we have made enemies of can make life difficult for us.
I’m a likeable enough kind of guy, but I do have a habit, from time to time, of inadvertently offending people in ways that I never intended. I’ll never forget when I was vying for a promotion in a company and was one of the top contenders. At a pub at the end of the day, when we were all having drinks, I went to leave and approached the boss to shake hands. Just before he put his hand out to shake mine, the person next to him put their hand out as well. I hate being in those positions! Anyway I made the mistake of shaking the other person’s hand first, leaving my boss with his hand out for a good 4-5 seconds (an eternity I expect). His face, which had been smiling, turned to stone.
I should point out I didn’t see this particular boss very often, so I had no way to ‘make it up to him’ or remove any negative vibes. He was not impressed, and I heard later that he had fiercely opposed my promotion whilst others had argued for me. No doubt he thought I had meant to slight him. I didn’t’ get the promotion (which turned out to be a good thing, but that’s another story).
I know you can read that and say that it might not have been the handshake (but if it wasn’t, at the very least it was the icing on the cake). The point is, though, that others have power. The fewer the potential enemies, the better off you are. Don’t fool yourself – don’t think you can make it all on your own.
But again, that wonderful phrase, “without surrender”. We should not at all costs try to please others. We must not sell our souls. There are some things that are just not worth giving up – our integrity. For example, there is nothing I could have done regarding my boss’s response (or rather, I wasn’t quick enough to know how to fix that faux pas at the time). Any efforts to try and befriend him were outside my skill set, and I would really have “surrendered myself” had I tried to “buddy” up to him.
Holding on to our integrity doesn’t mean we can’t be wise about how to handle people. In the gospels Jesus said “be as wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves”. A wise person will find a way, most of the time, to gain people’s friendship and influence choices, but retain their integrity in the process.
Being wise and innocent – a great juxtaposition of mindsets. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but it is a tall order. A very tall order, and I would be surprised if there is anyone who can pull that off consistently. The temptation to give in to others or to selfishly manipulate must surely undo us all from time to time. But what a goal to aspire to. To me it comes back again and again to being secure within yourself. This is a recurring theme throughout Desiderata, and I expect I will refer to it often in the coming posts.
Such inner strength results in a person who recognises the value of others, and what we can achieve together, but not at the cost of their own peace.
I know myself pretty well – I give myself some credit and some criticism. In some things I am confident, but when it comes to being comfortable with who I am, that’s a work in progress, and always will be. To build your own sense of self, strong and secure, is a challenge, but one worth taking up.
So just those simple words “As far as possible without surrender, be at peace with all persons” set us a wonderful goal to lean towards, and a lifetime most likely in working it out.
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.