This is the fourth in a series unpacking some of the timeless truths held in the poem “Desiderata”, where we examine its contents line by line
“Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.”
It’s very easy here to imagine an introverted reclusive monk going about their business and being frazzled by anyone with a loud American accent! But remember, this was not written by a monk, despite popular opinion, and this advice applies to yours and my world.
As with last week’s comment on Desiderata I am not going to agree entirely with this sentiment. I think that loud and aggressive persons can sometimes wake us up, shake up our comfortable world, maybe penetrate our most secretly held views and sacred cows. George Bernard Shaw said that it is the unreasonable people who change the world, because they don’t allow reasonableness to fence them in (my paraphrase).
With that caveat in mind, it can be pretty uncomfortable around loud and aggressive people, unless of course you are one of them. You don’t have to be an introvert to feel intimidated by such people. They tend to take you over, drown out your own voice and replace your opinions with theirs. No-one else can be right whilst they hold the floor, and that’s why they are dangerous. They suffocate thought. They stop progress, unless of course they are dead right. Even then, they can’t be right all the time, and so, sooner or later, progress comes to a screeching halt.
Some of our best politicians have come crashing down, or have brought our nation to a screeching halt due to their overpowering arrogance. Gough Whitlam, one of our most famous Prime Ministers, was a genius but in his arrogance, during the first 14 days of office controlled, between himself and one other person, all of the portfolios of Government, and issued a swathe of policy decisions. He is known to have said afterwards that there was one too many in that decision making process (or words to that effect)! The Whitlam government came crashing down only a few short years later, and many believe one of the reasons was that they did too much too soon.
I don’t know that Gough was necessarily loud and aggressive, just extremely self confident (he was actually a very charismatic and gregarious person). In spite of all the drama, he achieved many good things for the Australian people, which underscores my first point that aggressive people can make good things happen. It’s just that I don’t want to be around them because they are likely to steamroll me or take me over in the process.
Surely we have all had our experiences with overwhelming people where they brook no argument, and they have not been pleasant experiences. Why would we need to be advised to stay away from them? Wouldn’t our ‘vexed spirits’ be enough warning?
Maybe it would be, if it wasn’t for the fact that their sheer dominance can have us doubting ourselves. Think of those who have been subjected to domestic abuse – women, for example, who remain in abusive relationships. Why do they stay? Apart from fear of repercussions, they often have been browbeaten into believing that they are no good, that no-one else would have them, that they even deserve to be punished. Are they vexed? Absolutely, but they have been duped into believing that they are the cause of their own vexation.
Such dominating people can lock us into our own self imposed prison if we are not careful.
So how do we stay away from loud and aggressive persons? I suppose it takes an awareness that they are actually loud and aggressive to begin with. How do we feel in their presence? Energised? Then maybe their brand of loudness is good. Do we feel stupid, unimportant, disapproved of (or perhaps worse, non-existent)? Then there’s a good chance their brand of aggression is doing us damage and we need to get away.
Of course, you don’t have to be loud or aggressive to make others feel stupid or unimportant, but that’s a discussion for another time. Let’s stick to Desiderata’s point. Loud and aggressive people who vex you are easier to spot – others may be harder, and for different reasons.
So, Desiderata, your wisdom helps us once again to gain and keep control of who we are. Whilst we should absolutely listen to others point of view (see last week’s Desiderata post) stay away from people and circumstances that threaten to overwhelm and crush our inner being, and have the wisdom to recognise that that is indeed what they are doing.
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.