How should a man or woman live? What personal philosophy should we embrace as we live our allotted span on Earth?
This is a question rarely asked, yet it seems an important question.
I reflect on this greatly as I get older. Perhaps that is inevitable. As the well worn saying goes, youth is wasted on the young. And with middle age comes reflection.
Before going any further let me say at once that I am in no position to cast stones at anyone. If anything, I would say that the chief purpose of my existence on this mortal plane to date has been a rather spectacular demonstration of how to get it all wrong. There is no folly, stupidity or recklessness that I have not indulged in, from not marrying the right woman to marrying the wrong one. There is no proud boast that I have not idiotically made only to find the metaphorical egg streaming down my face. I have been a “man about town” (so to speak), a wag, a wanton and a clown. There is no “sin” that I have not indulged in, sometimes with fleeting pleasure, sometimes with long and painful regret, before I adopted this Monkish persona, retreating somewhat from ordinary life. Rather, I reflect on this issue with a touch of melancholy.
How the should a man or woman live? This is my conclusion.
Quietly, soberly, with simplicity, and a sense of purpose.
There is no need to be a clashing cymbal or a braying ass. The modern world confuses natural modesty for lack of self worth.
But self worth and self love is a proper and necessary virtue. A wise man, therefore, should learn how to love himself. This is not to be confused with allowing free reign to the ego. It is to develop a proper sense of self respect and that whoever you are you are a work of art in progress and a wonder of creation. As is so often and wisely said, if you do not love and value yourself you can hardly expect anyone else to do so. In a sense to love and respect yourself is the most important virtue because it provides the inspiration to care for and refine your mind, body and soul (if you believe in such matters). So you will get take that walk, go to that gym, run that marathon, lay off that second beer, dress better, feel better, act better, be better to others. It is not, I think, selfish to start with the self, because it is your only vehicle external action. In fact it is the only place you can start.
A wise man should live simply, but this does by any means mean live in poverty or without abundance. This is often problematical for religion which over the centuries has often equated poverty with holiness. Well, without going into details I have been poor, and I can tell you there is nothing holy about it all. A lot of the trouble has been caused by oft quoted phrases “For the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10) and “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). This is not the time or the place for a long winded theological debate. Suffice to say that in my personal view all that was being said is that being obsessed with money for its own sake does not lead to true happiness. In fact, according to some, if one understands the metaphors correctly one can read a great deal of both the Old and New Testament as a positive invocation to go forth and earn a packet. Simply does not mean without luxury, which is a good thing. It means without over complication, ostentation and self indulgence. It means having what you need, and not what you want to show off. But having the “good” things in life is right and proper.
A wise man therefore should make it his business to make his life a business and use his waking hours to good effect. He should make it his life’s object to become financially independent of all others so that whatever vicissitudes of misfortune affect the economy (and they always have and always will Gordon, if you are reading this) he will be secure against the storm. He should spend less than he earns. And although I come from a Roman Catholic background, I can’t help but feel that a solid dose of Protestant work ethic is a very good and necessary thing. This is a point which may well strike a chord with those many readers who have a Libertarian bent, because financial independence from the State is in my humble opinion an important foundation for freedom of view, expression and action.
This is part of the sense of purpose which I referred to above, but perhaps also a wise man should have a sense of a wider purpose in the world in general, and of contribution. A few weeks ago a posted a couple of short essays on my annual fishing trips to Scotland.
The man who organises these trips is a superbly skilled fisherman I called Wingnut. One day I asked Wingnut why he continued to invite me when I am so obviously a most incompetent fisherman. That is because, he explained, everyone on the trip “brings something to the party”. What it was he asserted I brought to the party in issue I will not relate, but the point has a wider application. We all have different skills, abilities and characteristics. But everyone brings something to unique the party, whatever it is: be it writing a blog, setting up a children’s refuge in Romania or being the best nurse you can be in an old folk’s home.
And finally, a wise man and woman should be lucky enough to find, love and cherish their partner. Perhaps this is indeed a matter of pure luck. Perhaps there is nothing lucky about it at all. I can’t help but feel life has a funny way of bringing people together – what they make of that is another matter. And whilst on this topic, I want to talk about sex, baby. There is a lot of rubbish talked about this. A happy and a healthy sex life is an important part of a truly happy and successful marriage or partnership. It seems to me that once again for many reasons which we can all speculate upon, “religious” and social, society has always been uptight about this issue. But if I was to get all preachy about it, I’d say it’s what the Good Lord designed for you, so don’t ignore it, or your partner will ignore you. I’m speaking from personal experience here.
Perhaps you will recall the moving scene in “The Shawshank Redemption” in which after years of incarceration Red confronts the parole board. He dismisses their patronising questions, but explain how he would like to go back and speak to his 18 year old self and talk some sense into him.
It is a sentiment I share.
But on a more forward thinking note, what do readers make of my philosophical ramblings. Are they pious platitudinous rubbish? Or how might they be corrected, improved or expanded? Could we at Raccoon develop a practical philosophy for living a full and good life? Over to you.
The picture above, by the way is John Donne. A wild, headstrong, womanising and turbulent man in his youth some say, he wrote some of the most beautiful and indeed erotic poetry to grace the English language. He ended up Dean of St Paul’s.
Make of that what you will.
Gildas the Monk