Echoes through time: to keep your mind within bounds

I want you not to go traipsing about from place to place, and this for two reasons. First, such frequent travel is a sign of disquiet. The mind cannot find strength in its leisure unless it stops looking around and wandering around. To keep you mind within bounds, you must first stop your body from running away. Second, it is the protracted cure that does the most good. You should rest without interruption and forget your former life. Let your eyes unlearn what they have seen; let your ears grow accustomed to more healthful words.

Seneca (4 BC – AD 65), Moral Letters to Lucilius (69.1)

“I don’t need time …”

A great quote from Duke Ellington, courtesy of The Execupundit:

I don’t need time. I need a deadline.

That’s so horribly true for me. Without a deadline time drags and tasks bloat to fill the day.

I understand Douglas Adam’s delicious quote …

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

…but I can never quite subscribe. Deadlines will be met, but sometimes you need a hit of adrenaline,cortisol and caffeine to get you there.

 

Image: https://www.biography.com/people/duke-ellington-9286338

Contemplation, inspiration and thanks

Happy Contemplation! It’s a week of sleeping and walking, eating and drinking, reading and pondering. Plans for the coming year will hatch, but slowly.

Goals will be set, and scratched, and set again.

Current sources of inspiration:

Established inspiration:

  • Nicholas Bate – always, always a source of pithy perspective. When I was at Microsoft, I was lucky enough to attend several of Nicholas’ courses.
  • Michael Wade – the Execupundit, I love Michael’s blend of business and military wisdom, …
  • Kurt Harden – music, life, perspective, food, politics, life

I can’t now recall which came first, but these are essential daily reading. Highly recommended. I dip into a long list of blogs and find inspiration, but these three are established, regular reading.

My thanks go to all three for their commitment and continued, high quality output.

 

Image: Winchester Cathedral

Echoes through time: in his words there may be nothing incorrect

“If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.

“When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.

“Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.”

Confucius (551-479 BC) , Analects  (Book 13, Chapter 3)

These fine words come via the very fine Cultural Offering.

Image: Biography.com

Something posterity will carry in its notebook – Seneca, @DailyStoic

I love this quote from Seneca, via The Daily Stoic’s newsletter:

How long will you be compelled by the claims of another? Take charge and stake your own claim — something posterity will carry in its notebook.

It comes from Seneca’s Moral Letters to Lucilius (Letter 33, paragraph 7 – he wrote a lot of letters).

I’m not sure where the translation comes from. I read it in the Daily Stoic newsletter, and also find it on The Mission (on Medium, here). In fuller version, the passage reads:

“For it’s disgraceful for an old person, or one in sight of old age, to have only the knowledge carried in their notebooks. Zeno said this . . . what do you say? Cleanthes said that . . . what do you say? How long will you be compelled by the claims of another? Take charge and stake your own claim — something posterity will carry in its notebook.”

But elsewhere, I find a more pedestrian (but possibly more literal) translation (on Wikisource and The Stoic Life ).

That is why we give to children a proverb, or that which the Greeks call Chria, to be learned by heart; that sort of thing can be comprehended by the young mind, which cannot as yet hold more. For a man, however, whose progress is definite, to chase after choice extracts and to prop his weakness by the best known and the briefest sayings and to depend upon his memory, is disgraceful; it is time for him to lean on himself. He should make such maxims and not memorize them. For it is disgraceful even for an old man, or one who has sighted old age, to have a note-book knowledge. “This is what Zeno said.” But what have you yourself said? “This is the opinion of Cleanthes.” But what is your own opinion? How long shall you march under another man’s orders? Take command, and utter some word which posterity will remember. Put forth something from your own stock.

For words to live by, though, I’ll go with the Daily Stoic:

Take charge and stake your own claim — something posterity will carry in its notebook.

And, for a spot of random association, it reminds me of this line from the classic Warren Zevon song, The French Inhaler:

And when the lights came up at two
I caught a glimpse of you
And your face looked like something
Death brought with him in his suitcase.

I can’t find a decent live version online, but here’s the original:

And, in fairness, I don’t think Warren was a stoic.

 

Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash

Thumos – relight the fire in your belly!

Lost values?

Sometimes, it feels as if our world is lacking in those old-fashioned qualities of responsibility, integrity and honour.

Instead, we have a culture of “rights”, entitlements and expectations. Of “alternative facts” and blatant, cynical lies. Too often, the spoils seem to go to those with the straightest faces and the brassiest necks.

In his recent series of insightful posts, What We Know About 2018, Nicholas Bate ventured (I suspect rather hopefully) that:

It will be World-Wide Year of Ownership

Human beings will re-discover the lost art of taking responsibility; accepting history as well, history; agreeing to disagree but staying civil and realising the ‘sound-bite’ lacks both width, depth and certainly any kind of length.

I’m not sure I see it, sadly.

As an aside, earlier this month I took a wicked pleasure in hearing the editor of GQ magazine, Dylan Jones, describing his experience of photographing and interviewing Jeremy Corbyn for the cover of his magazine. For a day or two, he was everywhere (for example here, here, here and here) delighting other editors and interviewers with his behind-the-scenes revelations. And, selling magazines.

It was funny, but also, I felt, a bit dishonourable to have invited the politician onto the cover of his magazine and then to tittle-tattle like an excited teenager about what went on.

The lost concept of thumos

Anyhow, back on track. If we feel we’re losing the ideals of honour and integrity, then we have certainly lost the very concept of “thumos”.

The Art of Manliness blog introduced me to the idea the other day with a post entitled: Jack London on how to live a life of thumos:

The philosopher Plato thought that the soul of man could be compared to a chariot and consisted of three parts: a dark horse which represented the appetites, a white horse that represented thumos, and the charioteer which symbolized reason, and worked to keep the two disparate steeds in balance.

Of the three parts of the soul, thumos is the hardest for us moderns to grasp. The ancient Greeks thought it essential to andreia, or manliness, but there’s no one word in contemporary language that is a real match for it. Even for the Greeks, it was a multi-faceted force that they saw as the “seat of life.” Thumos was the source of emotion – particularly a righteous anger that manifested itself not only towards one’s enemies, but also at oneself for failing to live up to one’s own principles and code of honor. Thumos was the juice to action and the energy of drive – particularly that which led a man to fight, preserve his honor, become the best of the best, and leave a legacy. It was also the location of a man’s philosophical code – a matrix of discernment through which he pondered possibilities and intuited decisions. Thumos was a man’s spiritedness, his fire in the belly.

The post is a great introduction to the concept, but I find it’s been a recurring theme of the blog (maybe unsurprisingly given the blog’s title). You can find more about the ideas, here:

Fire in the belly

The juice to action, the energy of drive, the fire in the belly. Now, there’s a concept to play with. It underpins all those other fading concepts of integrity, honour and responsibility and is, surely, essential to all sovereign professionals.

Re-light your fire.

 

Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash