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.

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.

 

Sensations of Summer

What I love about the summer

summertime-lazy-050315

A recent daily prompt reminded me of Summer in Melbourne, one of my favourite seasons of the year. Poetry is not one of my strengths, but I’m feeling adventurous, so here’s my attempt to paint a picture of it.

Hot baked yellow light

Shimmering heat rushing up from the sidewalks and carriageways

Long outdoor evenings, lazy barbecues

Distracted hand wave, dispelling fly and mosquito

The smell of sunscreen, white smears on protected flesh

The sheen of oily, sweaty bodies

Cloudless skies with a blue so deep you could drown in them

A painters canvas of vivid colours

The sticky restlessness of humid nights

The pall of oppressive heat

Energy and apathy

Reading books in the shade

A trip to the beach, cooling off in the waves, only to be hot again as we sojourn home

Salads and Chardonnay

The background buzz of cricket on the telly

Night time walks in the city by our glittering river, the air quietly alive, adding a glow to buildings and the night sky

Squeals of laughter and delight bubbling up from nearby pools

Long cold drinks, the soft rattle of ice

Early morning sprinklers

Relief as we close the door on the heat behind us

Shorts, flip flops, loose t shirts, swimsuits, adventurous clothing

Bare legs, arms, shoulders, feet – skin everywhere!

Glorious sunsets

A season larger than life

 

Desiderata 5

The vexed issue of comparing ourselves with others

desiderata

Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 5th blog in a series on the poem as we mine its riches line by line.

“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.”

But we do. We compare ourselves with others all the time. We can’t help it. And surely it has to be one of the worst things we can do.

Am I smarter? More good looking? Faster? Stronger? More compassionate? More friendly? A better listener? A better lover? A better cook/mechanic/scientist/manager/leader/teacher/nurse/doctor/driver…..?

It’s tiring just thinking about it.

The fact is that the world rewards talent. If we’re better at something than someone else, we’ll get the job or get the affirmation or get the relationship. So how can we not compare ourselves to others? There’s simply too much at stake.

Here’s the thing. There will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Always. Without fail. Even if you were proclaimed the greatest person in your field, there’s always the chance that someone, somewhere, unknown to your peers or just simply unknown by anyone, is better.

I’m a good bass guitarist. Some people have raved about my playing ability. But my skills pale in comparison to many prominent well known bassists, and their skills in turn pale in comparison to the great bass players of the world. So what should I do? Measure myself by those inferior to me? Measure myself to those better than me?

I need to ask myself “why do I play?” Because I love to. And that’s what I need to focus on. Anything else takes my attention away from why I do to what I do.

Now admittedly, I don’t do it for the money. I have a day job that takes care of my monetary needs, so any cash from gigs is nice, but not needed. On the other hand, if I was a professional player making my living from it, my skills compared to others becomes more important because more is at stake.

After all, the better players will get more gigs – or will they? I’ve discovered that personality is just as important as skill. People will hire you for who you are just as much as for what you can do. I mean, obviously, you have to have the chops – you have to be good at what you do. But if you and the other guy are both competent enough, being extra good is no guarantee you’ll get the job over him or her.

Constantly Desiderata comes back to who you are. Comparing yourself to others is a sign that you are not comfortable with yourself. Although we all do it, some of us do it more than others. And we know what it feels like when we don’t measure up. Conversely, being perceived as better than someone else is just as bad. We get proud, or vain, and most likely set ourselves up for a fall. We’re looking at the wrong things.

And I’m not just talking about skill. We can be proud of how many friends we have (I’ve met people like that). We can be proud of how caring we are, or how helpful we can be, or we can berate ourselves for not being as sensitive or as loving as someone else. It’s the same thing. How trapped we become – because our focus is on the wrong thing.

So what should our focus be on? Desiderata goes on to say “Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans”. Well that’s one answer. Enjoying your achievements is pretty self evident, even though lots of people don’t. They’re too busy thinking about the next thing they have to do. But to enjoy your plans? What’s that all about?

You’ve probably heard the saying “enjoy the journey and not just the destination”. I’m guessing it’s something along those lines. I remember a proverb that stated “A wise decision is still wise even if fortune makes it of no effect. A foolish decision is still foolish, even if the outcome against all odds happens to be good”. In other words, the process is actually more important than the outcome.

Think about that. If you are caught up only with the outcome, then your happiness depends on its success or failure.  But if you allow the process to be satisfying as well, your own happiness and sense of worth is not tied to the more precarious and less controllable result. You are not measuring yourself by the outcome, but by the journey.

Now of course, if your journey was foolish or ill prepared, that’s a lesson for another time. But if you’ve done your best, or close to it, then a good outcome (though clearly desirable!) is not necessary to your own sense of self. And therefore others’ success or failure isn’t a measure  of who you are either.

These words are so easy to type, and another thing entirely to do. But that’s wisdom for you – it’s not easy, its just right.

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 4

Being in control of your own person

Desiderata 4

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.

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.