Desiderata 12

desiderata12

Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 12th blog in a series on the poem, as we mine its riches line by line.

“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.”

You may have heard the analogy of having your emotional “tank” full or empty. When you’re running on empty you’ve got nothing left to give, and are dangerously close to breaking down in one form or another. The remedy is simple – spend time with the people/things that fill you up emotionally and give you a sense of wholeness again. Unfortunately that’s not always possible, and in such instances you have to work out how to keep going on the smell of an oily rag.

But Desiderata isn’t really taking here about having your tank full (though it helps!). He is talking more about nurturing your own inner ability to be strong. Whilst filling ourselves up emotionally is a really good idea, we still need that strength of spirit that says “I’m going to keep standing as long as I have to, and I’m going to see this through”. 

It’s true that some people are born with an amazing (and sometimes infuriating) tenacity and stubbornness. Like Winston Churchill, they are the kind of person to say “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never…” and back it up with their unflinching determination. But many of us aren’t like that. Whilst I have a good deal of tenacity, I lack that ironclad, immovable, unshakeable faith in myself and in what I am saying or doing. Chances are you’re similar to me in that regard – I’m pretty sure I’m no Robinson Crusoe here.

But strength of spirit is crucial to all of us. Without it we simply won’t make it. Oh we might survive and even live long, but our lives will be broken, or empty, or somehow less-than, if we are not able to gird our loins in the midst of adversity. We need to be able to keep ourselves together and not give up on ourselves. Those who have given up on themselves (and no judgement here, we don’t know what they’ve been through) sometimes never really recover.

The author of Desiderata gives us no clues as to how to do this. And this is no self help blog, so I have no intention of listing any tips or tricks. But I will say this: be aware that you need to do this. Make sure you build yourself up, not with flattery or ego, but with the simple understanding that times will come where you will have to stand alone. Whilst we need each other and can expect that others will come to our aid, be sure of this – there will be times when no-one can or no-one will be there for you.

In every marriage, for example, there are going to be times when your spouse just can’t or won’t provide what you need. That’s just reality. When that happens, it’s not the time to berate them or to wonder why you married them in the first place. That’s often a manipulative attempt to get others to carry you. No, it is a time to draw on your own inner resources, and sometimes even just be there for them, until things return to normal. I believe it’s a sign of a healthy marriage when both parties have the ability to stand on their own two feet when’s it’s absolutely necessary. It creates respect and it can even draw people closer once they realise each other’s inner strength. There’s an old saying – the ones who are really ready for marriage are the ones who don’t actually need to get married.

Desiderata  doesn’t leave us on our own though. In an about turn, he says in effect “Now don’t overdo it. Don’t be perpetually on your guard, expecting the worst”. We can read too much into things. I know – I am guilty 100 times over of fearing the worst and then finding there was nothing to fear in the first place (so much so that I’m now suspicious of my fears and don’t give in to them so easily). There are some people I know that stand like a rock all on their own all the time – and that’s sad.

We need a balance then, as always. On the one hand, to be internally strong enough to get by during periods of personal drought and hardship. Without it we become too dependent on others or on circumstances. On the other hand, to not make ourselves an island, one constantly on guard, keeping people and opportunity out. That way lies loneliness and unfulfilment.

Desiderata

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.

Be yourself.
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.

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Desiderata 11

desiderata11

Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 11th blog in a series on the poem, as we mine its riches line by line.

“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”

In a world that worships youth and vitality, it’s very common to see those of us who are older try to hold on to what is young. Being in my late 50’s, I can certainly relate. On this topic, Desiderata has some gentle, but necessary, advice for us.

I know myself I have tried to minimise the effects of aging. Some people say I look young for my age, and I certainly try to stay fit. I go to the gym regularly (have done since my late 30’s). I’ve always been slim, but since my mid forties have had to actively watch what I eat in order to keep weight from packing on. My hair has slowly been thinning for 15 years now and I’ve been able to get away with a ‘semi’ comb-over that didn’t look like a comb-over, but in recent times that’s exactly what it’s looked like and has had to go. I now keep my hair pretty short and it looks fine – it’s just a different look.

I’ll confess I have struggled a bit against aging (those of you who read my blog have noted my occasional comment on this). I don’t want to accept that there are some things I can’t do anymore – I’m a little bit in denial (but only a little, because at least I know I am). I’m very good at not giving up on something, which on the one hand is commendable, but on the other hand is not good if you are putting off the inevitable. And there is nothing so inevitable as aging.

This is where Desiderata comes in – the author gently exhorts us to “take kindly the counsel of the years”, and surrender gracefully. Lovingly put. It’s unwise to resist the inevitable, and even though we shouldn’t just ‘give up’, there is a certain dignity in recognising one’s limitations.

It need not be an abrupt, heart wrenching capitulation.We shouldn’t package ourselves up for the nursing home just yet, but at the same time we shouldn’t try to be a young person all over again. Even though I fully intend to do as much as I can, both physically and mentally, I should still take stock of climbing ladders for example (I’ve read that people over 50 are less able to balance properly and ladders need to be approached with caution). That’s just wisdom.

Part of our problem is not just accepting the limitations of our bodies. I think we have a myth, propogated by society, that youth is where life is at its best. I don’t think that’s true. We’ve all heard stories beginning with “if I could be young again I would…”, but almost always they add in “if I knew what I know now”. Well, there’s the thing – a young person doesn’t know what you know now, and they can’t. That’s the beauty and the fragility of their world. In your world now, the beauty is in your wisdom, is (hopefully) in the rounding out of your character, perhaps also the size of your bank balance, and the fragility for you is unfortunately your body.

We face a different world when we are older, but in some ways it is a better world. My wife and I now have the time and the resources to go on trips overseas. With the benefit of wisdom and our lived experiences, we make decisions about things more easily and confidently than we did as younger people. 

In my line of work I come across a lot of clients who are retired or about to retire. It’s not uncommon, once they’ve retired, for many of them to say “I don’t know how I ever found time to work, I’m so busy doing things!” They’re involved in charities, or helping with grandkids, or going on holidays, or enjoying golf, or gardening, or reading, or visiting friends and family.

Of course, not everyone is in that category. I’ve also known people who didn’t want to retire because they dreaded knowing what to do with themselves once they stopped work. The person whose business I bought several years ago sold it in order to retire, but in handing the business over he went through extreme anxiety, and only a year later he bought another small business just to keep himself busy. One of my clients was forced to retire a few years ago because the business was relocating interstate, and at the age of 72 he reluctantly accepted his redundancy package. Whenever I visit him he looks at a loss to know what to do with himself, and he tries to find all sorts of ways to keep me there for a longer chat, because he’s lonely.

So, old age has its faults and obvious downsides but isn’t automatically a terrible thing. It’s just different. But in our youth filled western environment, we hear all about Botox, face lifts, hair transplants (for balding men) and a smorgasbord of potential beauty enhancers, designed at least in part to stave off the effects of aging. We might look younger (emphasis on the word “might”) but our bodies are still older on the inside.

I don’t really want to go out to night clubs anymore, or have all night rages. I do wish I could still play footy, but not massively. I don’t really want to go through the hassle of finding a life partner again (though I know of course some of you at my age are doing just that). I don’t really want to go through having babies and small children again (though I look forward eagerly to having grand kids). I do wish I had the energy of a younger person, but in reality I don’t need that level of energy anymore, because I don’t have to face raising kids or working extra long hours to impress the boss or get ahead. If necessary, I can take my time to get things done.

It’s simply a different world, a different phase of life for people who are more than half way through their life. But it really is a “surrendering gracefully the things of youth”. I think we do actually need to surrender them. Lets not be too eager to do that before our time, but when that time comes, most of us make a conscious decision to let go.

I don’t want to try and be something that I am not (that theme again, which runs right through Desiderata). If there is something you or I want to do, I think the best approach is to say “Do I really want to do this? Am I being foolish in trying to do something that my age simply will not let me do?” If the answer is yes and then no, then I say go for it.

It’s not up to someone else to tell you to act your age – they can of course, but you have to be the one to decide if there is wisdom there or not. Unfortunately, unless they know you really well, they’re more likely to categorise you and try to limit your decisions by their notions of what an older person can do.

There are men in their 80’s still pushing weights at the gym, there are women of the same age still working in charities, there are people of both sexes writing, painting, giving, sharing. Older age can be full of so much activity, enjoyment, and fulfilment. What more could you ask? Let the young people enjoy their youth – and let yourself enjoy the life that comes with your advancing years.

Interestingly, we are seeing more movies and shows these days featuring old people in lead roles, where they are not trying to be anything other than old. And I think (and ladies you can tell me if I’m wrong) there has been an upsurge in fashion for older women. Perhaps our culture is finally allowing older people to carry themselves with dignity, and be comfortable with who they are.

Desiderata

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.

Be yourself.
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.

Desiderata 10

desiderata-10

Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 10th blog in a series on the poem, as we mine its riches line by line.

“Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass”.

I wouldn’t blame people for being cynical about love. With a divorce rate of 50%, our society is used to the fickleness of love. Violence in the home, marital unfaithfulness, boredom with each other, falling out of love… The only people who perhaps aren’t so cynical about love might be younger people who haven’t been in love long enough to be seriously let down by it. Maybe love really is a ‘secondhand emotion’, as Tina Turner contemptuously described it.

But that cynicism may also be because people don’t understand love. It’s a complex human condition.

There are actually different kinds of love. Think about it. We say we love a person and we love ice-cream. We love our dad or mum, and we love our boyfriend or girlfriend. Our brother or sister might annoy us half to death, but when push comes to shove most of us still love them. Surely these are all different kinds of love. 

There has been no shortage of writers seeking to define love, and many have written about its different dimensions, so I’m not breaking new ground here in making that suggestion. But let’s talk for a moment about what is probably the main culprit of our cynicism – and that is ‘romantic love’.

Romantic love is fickle. When people ‘fall’ in love (interesting phrase by the way, sounds like you can ‘fall’ out of it just as easily), it’s usually an intense emotional experience. It’s wonderful. It’s joyous. It makes the sky look bluer, the grass look greener, the day feel brighter. The reason is, the best I can make out, is that we are overjoyed that the object of our affection loves us back (and of course if they don’t, then there’s the intensity of unrequited love). But believe it or not, romantic love is actually quite selfish. “You make me feel great, and I want to be around you forever”.

There’s nothing wrong with that as long as we recognise it for what it is. And, if we handle it with care, and don’t expect it to do the heavy lifting, it will most likely hang around and pop back up again at the most unexpected moments.

Because there’s the rub. Romantic love cannot last on its own. At first its passion will be intense, but will eventually subside to more normal and less emotionally taxing levels. It actually has to, as our bodies can’t physically cope with sustained emotional intensity. Any relationship that lasts will need more than romantic love. It’s a delicate flower that will lose its petals in a storm. It’s not cut out for the rough stuff.

Desiderata states that love is ‘as perennial as the grass’. If the author is referring here to romantic love by itself, you can tell by my description so far that I would have a hard time agreeing with him.

But perhaps he is referring to a ‘combination’ of loves, as it were. There is a more solid form of love, what some people have called “indifferent love”. Indifferent love is, I think, best described as “caring for someone”. That sounds pretty lame I know, but I don’t know how else to put it. You do something for  someone, not because you are motivated by racing emotion, but by a more “objective” decision based on compassion or mercy.

What causes a stranger to walk into a burning house in order to try and rescue someone they don’t even know? This is so common an occurrence that firefighters strenuously try to stop it, because people routinely die from misjudging the danger and plunging headlong in. When the media reports that a family is in dire straits, it’s not uncommon for people to dig deep and give of their own money to a family they have never met. On a more personal level, I hope you have experienced sudden acts of kindness from someone you barely know when you were between a rock and a hard place. And parents often go without to send their kids to school, or to pay for that operation or make a specific opportunity possible.

That kind of love does abound everywhere. And what about that love you might feel for your pesky sibling, or that grumpy grandad? Such people can be a real pain in the neck, but their sudden misfortune or worse still, death, often brings out surprisingly strong feelings of loss or concern. C.S. Lewis described this as affection, something you might feel for someone who has been a part of your world, like it or not, who you might argue with tooth and nail, but suddenly miss deeply if they moved on.

Love is a complex thing indeed, much, much more complex than the feeble attempt I am making to describe it here.

In the presence of indifferent love, affection, and other kinds of loving gestures, romantic love can survive. Like a weed that you think you dug out but springs up again, romantic love can take a holiday (sometimes a long one) and then pop up again when you least expect it. Although it is fickle, romantic love planted and watered in good soil can indeed endure, and perhaps over the long term it may even fit that description of being perennial. It may well disappear without a trace when the going gets tough, but just maybe it will keep coming back.

Desiderata speaks of  love “in the face of all aridity and disenchantment”. There is real pain out there in the world, and there are plenty of instances where love has disappeared and cruelty, genuine indifference, or  hatred has taken its place. This is not some cheesy slogan that love fixes all. It doesn’t. But it exists – it is all around us, and perhaps if we take the time to remind ourselves and look again, it might just save us from the cancer of ingrained, bitter cynicism.

Let’s be realistic by all means – but let’s not let that realism cause us to lose the joy of possibilities and surprises in a world that is often cruel and heartless.

Desiderata

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.

Be yourself.
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.

Desiderata 9

More on being real

desiderata-9

Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 9th blog in a series on the poem, as we mine its riches line by line.

“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.”

Prior to this verse, Desiderata has exhorted us to “be yourself”. Then the author goes on to single out feigning affection as the thing especially not to do. That’s a big call. Why this one thing above all others? It makes me wonder if he had a bad experience himself and was particularly sensitive to this specific kind of deception. Is he speaking out of personal hurt, or does he really think that affection is the most important thing not to feign?

Let’s face it, lots of people feign affection. Either they don’t want to offend and so come across as friendly, or they want something and are trying to get into your good books. Think of a teenage kid who has got him or herself into trouble, and goes all smiley and cute/charming (never worked for me!) to soften the punishment or avoid it entirely.

Maybe it’s because affection, once it’s found to be false, hurts more than other forms of deception. But even then, it probably only hurts if you have already let that person get a little close. If I know someone isn’t particularly my friend and they all of a sudden turn on the charm, I can usually tell that they’re after something, so I’m not taken in. But it isn’t always that simple.

Recently, a guy who worked in the same building with me and got on well with me, moved on to another job, helping to build up a new electricity company. Although we got on well, (we seemed to hit it off on a number of levels) I wasn’t sure if he enjoyed my company quite as much as I enjoyed his. A few months passed, and he contacted me out of the blue. I was really pleased because I had missed our chats (though I tried to be pretty casual over the phone!) and after we chatted a bit, he said I must come over some time when I’m in the area to his new place of business. I’m on the road occasionally as part of my job, so I readily agreed and sure enough a few weeks later a window of opportunity opened up and I popped over to catch up.

When I got there, to my surprise he brought another guy into the room with him, someone new to his business. but who also knew a couple of people that I knew. I was expecting just to chat with my friend, maybe over a coffee and a bite to eat. Anyway, we chatted amiably for a while, and then just as I was about to leave, my friend asked if I wanted to switch my electricity across to his new business. I agreed (he had earlier offered me a great deal), and found out later that the new guy he had introduced to me was the one who would be the contact person on my account.

As I made my way home, a sinking feeling slowly came over me. I felt we had met under false pretenses, and it hurt a bit more because I had felt some connectedness with him in the past. And of course, surprise, surprise, I haven’t heard from him since then.

I must confess it hurts a little even now. And it makes me wonder, just a little, if he actually has any close friends. He is a private kind of guy with a lot of emotional baggage, but I wouldn’t have thought he was capable of this. Maybe it was because he was consumed by his business that he stooped to this level. Maybe he’s not even aware of what he has done. Maybe he thinks that he was just doing me a favour, even though none of that surfaced while he was inviting me over.

What happens to us when we feign affection? I suppose we become a little less real, a little less grounded. We are denying who we are, to some extent, by pretending be be somebody else. Affection is, in my opinion, a cornerstone to any long term relationship. Fake that, and just maybe you don’t have a relationship at all. People become disposable, and you become shallow.

Many other ‘deceptions’ might be forgiven – you might pretend to be smarter than you are, or richer than you are, or more athletic, or confident when you’re not, or more knowledgeable on a particular subject, or more relaxed when you’re really quite anxious. Chances are people can see through your subterfuge, and may (or may not!) still like you. But pretend to be affectionate, and once it is found out, people will leave you in droves.

Now, this can sound a little over the top. I’m sure all of us have got ourselves out of trouble by sucking up to someone, and as long as it’s a rare occurrence then we’re probably pretty safe (and really just a little bit human as well). But if it becomes something we routinely do, then we become known as someone lacking substance, not real, even if people can’t quite put their finger on it. My hunch is, though, that they probably can. Most of us can spot a faker from a mile off, just not all the time and maybe not straight away.

Feigning affection surely must hollow us out. We’re not being true to our own emotions, and over time we may lose touch with what we really feel. And that’s the tragedy. Maybe that’s why Desiderata goes on to say next “Neither be cynical about love…”, a comment we will unpack in our next blog on Desiderata.

Desiderata

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.

Be yourself.
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.

Desiderata 8

Be yourself – it’s harder than you think

desiderata 8

Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 8th blog in a series on the poem, as we mine its riches line by line.

“Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection”.

Surely all of us would agree straight away with this part of the poem. What more needs to be said? We’ve all heard that we need to be ourselves. Let’s just heed the advice and move on.

Not so fast. We need to ask, “if this is so obvious, why is it in the poem at all?” It’s because it’s so easy to lose sight of, and harder than you think.

“Be yourself”. That motto has to be the cornerstone of most of the self help books and advice that is on tap these days. The reason it is so pervasive in modern self help is because it’s in such short supply. Being yourself is hard to define, and even harder to live out.

Who are you anyway? Sounds like one of the questions a counsellor would ask you as you lie on the couch (just kidding – most counsellors don’t have couches). Are you what you do? “I’m a painter/architect/stay at home mum/policeman/analyst/stock broker/carpenter…… “. No, that’s not the answer.

Is it your social standing, your position in relation to others? A woman/man, son/daughter, wife/husband/single person/widow/divorcee, rich person/poor person, boss/employee, lover/guardian. I doubt it.

One clever person came up with the idea “it’s who you are when no-one’s looking.” Sounds good to me, but chances are most of us are too confused to know who we are even when we’re alone. About the only difference is that we drop the pretense that we masquerade around others. Admittedly there are a few people who are supremely self confident and comfortable in their own skin – hence they probably have a good idea of who they are. If you are such a one feel free to skip this blog!

For the rest of us, it is a genuinely tough thing to know who you are, let alone let yourself be it. I remember a young man said to me once “I hate who I am, so how can I just be myself?” When he dropped his attempts to please others, he was left with someone he didn’t know and didn’t like.

I trust you’re getting the picture. This phrase “Be yourself” is the single most recurring theme of Desiderata. If you read back through the previous posts, you will see how often the author’s advice comes back to protecting who you are and not losing sight of it.

I’ve been around for a while, and I think I know a thing or two on the subject. I’m not the best role model for self acceptance, but I’m all I’ve got, so I’d like to explain a little of what I’ve learnt.

I’ve got my share of weaknesses and foibles. This is not a confessional and I don’t intend to go into detail here, but I dare say as you read my blogs you’ll get some idea of what I am talking about (because I do tell on myself every now and then). And I have worked hard to overcome things that I haven’t liked about myself – had some successes and some failures too. And I don’t intend to stop now. But one thing I have learned – I know my limitations and I won’t hate myself because of them.

What’s the point of hating myself? It won’t change me – it won’t change you. It will only get in the way. Now you’d think that just accepting your weaknesses would mean you’re on the road to overcoming them. Well maybe – but maybe not. Accepting your weakness means just that – it’s there and it’s unlikely to go away easily. There are some things I’m just not good at, and some of those things I really, really wish I was good at. But I’m not. And though I’m open to growing and improving, I have come to accept that some things are not likely to ever change.

That means when things go wrong in some areas, I don’t get upset. I don’t set myself up for failure by trying to do something that I know I can’t do. Now that sounds a bit defeatist, and I don’t want to encourage that kind of attitude, but all I can say is that when the time comes you’ll know the difference between ‘giving up’ and having the wisdom to know not to expect too much in a certain area.

I’m reminded of an episode from the British TV series “Doc Martin”. He’s an irritable, easily upset person with atrocious people skills who happens to be a brilliant doctor in a small town. Someone in the village actually falls in love with him, and he with her (genuinely), but she eventually finds him impossible to live with. Cut a very long story short, she ends up deciding to stay with him because she loves him and accepts his oddness. Doesn’t try to change him. Doesn’t set him up by expecting him to do things she knows he just can’t do. Accepts that he loves her, and she loves him, and if they’re an odd couple, so be it. (See episode 6 of Season 8 if you’re interested).

Being yourself is no easy feat. And regarding the young man I spoke of, I can so easily understand his frustration. How hard is it for a young person, who so wants his life to be successful, to accept some things about himself which will most likely inhibit at least some of his life goals, but find peace in the rest and just get on with it?

I should say that just as I have accepted my flaws, I have also accepted what I’m good at. I won’t brag about them, and certainly not here, but when the occasion arises I have no trouble saying I’m good at something. And for the most part (maybe not always) I do so without pride. I am who I am. I’m good at this – I’m not good at that.

I haven’t addressed the second part of the quote -“Especially don’t feign affection”. It intrigues me that the author has singled this out more than anything else, but I’ve run out of room with this blog, so we’ll stop here and pick it up next time.

Desiderata

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.

Be yourself.
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.

Desiderata 7

Cynicism can be a cancer, but there is a cure..

Desiderata 7

Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 7th blog in a series on the poem, as we mine its riches line by line.

“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.”

The first part of this stanza is probably self evident to all but the most naive, so I’m not going to spend much time talking about it. We know that we can be ripped off and that there are scam artists out there. What interests me more is the balance the author brings by reminding us that it’s not all bad. Indeed, the opposite is possible – high ideals do exist. And not just that – many people strive for them.

It’s so easy to become cynical, and the older you are, the more likely that you can become jaded by the hypocrisy, lies, self interest and manipulation that seems to abound. People we once regarded as heroes have sadly been exposed as fraudsters or paedophiles. Whenever I see a documentary spouting the theme “exposing the real truth about (insert name)”, I just don’t want to know. I’m tired of seeing heroes fall and finding out that good people are not so good.

Indeed the world can sometimes seem to be full of smoke and mirrors. The Catholic church, for example, supposedly a bastion of Christian virtue, has been guilty of protecting and covering up the sexual sins of some of its priests, at the expense of thousands (millions?) of sexual abuse victims and their shattered lives. The very people that were entrusted to their care have become expendable in the effort to protect priests. We really don’t have to look far to become disillusioned. Things unfortunately are often not what they seem.

This cynicism, though justified, is not good for the soul, and can harden us from the inside out. Compassion, joy, and light heartedness are its casualties. The author of Desiderata would spare us that by reminding us that a hard heart is not unavoidable.

For example: we have all heard of, and no doubt experienced personally, businesses that rip us off and don’t deliver what they promise. Yet I am in business myself (as a financial adviser), and though I certainly want to make a profit, I occasionally have found myself wanting to help my clients in spite of a lack of remuneration. And I’m not alone – I have heard many stories of other professionals genuinely helping clients above and beyond the call of duty. Add to this tradesmen, mechanics, and a whole range of other occupations where they have, at times, gone the extra mile. Most of you (hopefully all of you) have had such an experience at least once. If you are in business yourself, it would not surprise me if you have done the same.

Yet it’s surprisingly hard to do something altruistic, as people have a hard time believing you are doing something for nothing. A couple I had known for years and who had served sacrificially in church positions all their life, didn’t have a whole lot of finances to show for it. When they asked me for advice I told them I would do it for free as a gesture to their faithfulness and what it had cost them to serve as they had. Financial advice can be quite expensive, and I could see them struggle with my offer, the wife in particular – she just had a look of scepticism on her face. I can only assume she was thinking “What’s the catch?”. Long story short, they didn’t take me up on my offer. And they aren’t the only ones who have looked at me sceptically when I offered to do something that didn’t make me a profit.

A different example: we see stories, too many to mention and with mind numbing regularity, about men and their brutalising of women. It would be easy, and certainly understandable, to regard all men with suspicion. But then we occasionally hear stories of the opposite kind. I read recently of a case where a woman, dead drunk, was being molested and no doubt soon to be raped, when two young men on bicycles who were riding by came to her rescue. That woman, though still traumatised by the event, now has a drawing of two bicycles taped to the ceiling of her bedroom that she gazes on when she lies in bed. It still gives her so much comfort to know that rescue had come and that there are good people in the world.

Thank goodness not all men are assholes. It is still helpful to remind ourselves that the majority of men actually can be trusted – the problem, of course, is knowing who.

So how do we strike this balance? How do we find a way to be cautious and yet keep our hearts open to the possibility (even the likelihood) of goodness and heroism?

It’s helpful to remember that no-one is perfect. I mentioned earlier that I don’t want to watch TV exposes of well known people. The fact is if any of us look too deeply at anyone, including me or you, we are not going to like what we see – or rather, we’re not going to like everything we see. We’ve all got skeletons in the closet, and I’ve reached the point where I just don’t want to know. No hero is perfect, but that doesn’t mean that he or she still hasn’t done good things. Their heroism, or altruism, can be real, even if it isn’t all of who they are.

So let’s not swallow a sugary pill that everyone is essentially wonderful. Disillusionment will quickly take root if we hold such an elevated view. But on the other hand let’s recognise the good that does exist. And I’m not interested here in delving into the philosophical discussion that surrounds this topic (eg that we are good only out of selfish motives). Regardless of motivation, in real life, in real ways, many people do strive for high ideals (I bet many of you do) and everywhere life truly is full of heroism, if you look for it.

I used to be a drug counsellor in a former life, and learnt first hand the devious and manipulative ways of drug users. It hardened me, and I found my compassion slowly draining away. But eventually I made the decision to give people a chance again – not with much, just a little, but give them a chance anyway. If I see a person begging on the street for money, my first thought is they’re going to use it for drugs or alcohol. Even if that’s likely, I can’t know that. So I have decided to give anyway.  If I get ripped off, then I haven’t lost much, and I have maintained my humanity.

The author of Desiderata would wish us the same – that we remain open to goodness as we cautiously step through life. In doing so we keep our souls alive and our humanity intact.

Desiderata

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.

Be yourself.
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.

Desiderata 6

Perspectives on something most of us spend a lot of time at – our jobs

desiderata 6

Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 6th blog in a series on the poem, as we mine its riches line by line.

‘Keep interested in your own career, however humble. It is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.”

I must admit, at first glance I thought what a strange piece of advice to give in this weighty, rather profound poem. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. It’s right to be in this poem. Our job or career takes up a big part of our life (and by the way if you are a stay at home mum, I don’t think the author would mind if you swapped the word “career” for whatever phrase best describes your choice).

A whole cacophony of proverbs spring to mind. “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. “Be thankful for small mercies”. “From little things big things grow”. And I’m sure you can think of many more.

It’s all about perspective. We, as a species, all too easily get discouraged, and lose our perspective. Someone else is doing better than us, others are earning more, got that lucky break, are doing the thing they love, and I’m stuck here, in this job and going nowhere. Of course that’s a matter of perspective, because someone may well be looking at you and feeling the same way about themselves (they probably are, believe it or not). Like that saying “I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” Pulls you up short a bit doesn’t it?

But it’s very specific advice – your career. Now some of you have no career, you’ve just got a job to pay the bills. But isn’t that more an attitude than anything else? Working at MacDonalds for example (hard work and crappy pay) is part of your career if you so choose, and no, I’m not just spouting platitudes when I say that. You’re there for a reason aren’t you? To pay your way through college? To get a job under your belt so you can have job experience for the next one? Even just to earn some pocket money? It is actually part of your career path if you let it, and even if you don’t, your work experience at MacDonalds will have its benefits somewhere along the line whether you realise it or not. (This is not a plug for MacDonalds, by the way, who I regard as tight fisted and mean spirited with their staff, but it actually is a great place to learn to work).

So what about your career – “keep interested” in it. Stay at it, don’t give up. Don’t let it grind you down. Why not? Two reasons, one that the author doesn’t spell out but I think was in his mind (such presumption!) and one that he does spell out.

First reason – those who keep interested are likely to last the distance. People who don’t give up will spot opportunities that others don’t see, not because they are smarter but because they keep a degree of focus. They may not even see it as “an opportunity”, but just something they can do to make their job work better. Nothing great is ever achieved without cost, and those who complain about their job, or lose faith in themselves, tend to drift along, fulfil their obligations and find work a chore. But those who keep interested not only find work more enjoyable (a huge plus) but will actually be strengthening their grip on growth and promotion.

But what if you are in a job you hate? Well I suppose you could leave, but let’s say you can’t. I was in a job for 5 years that I hated, not the work itself but the pressure from certain cliques in the office. I could have left but it was at an important time in my life and my wife would have been deeply unsettled if I had moved on. I persevered, learnt a lot, kept clients happy (most of them), and finally moved on 5 years ago to buy my own business (which was the best thing I ever did).

I look back on those times and wonder how I survived. I have few happy recollections, and genuinely believe I feel younger today than I did when I worked at that place.

It’s all about attitude. I was by no means a happy camper, but I tried to make the best of a tough time. Keep interested in your job. Work at it until in the fulness of time something better comes along. Don’t be looking around at everything else. Focus on what you have.

And that brings me to the point that Desiderata does make – “it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time”. Be thankful for what you’ve got. You don’t know that next week you could lose your job. You probably know that many people in other countries are nowhere near as fortunate as you or I. Most of you reading this don’t live in a world where jobs are insecure, although I do remember reading about the grave difficulties that faced many Americans during and after the GFC – people that were once successful and earning good incomes, living out of cars with their wife and children because they had lost everything.

You’ve got a job! It’s something you have! If you don’t like it then look for another, but whilst you are there, treat it with respect, however humble, because it’s paying your bills.

It’s so easy to lose focus. To see others getting ahead, earning more, or to look around your job and see all the things you hate about it, real or imagined. That makes for a miserable life, and that’s something the author of Desiderata would spare us if we heed his advice.

Desiderata

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.

Be yourself.
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.