Andersen column: Go placidly amid the noise … Thanks, Max, for the timeless reminder
May 21, 2017
If you remember the Desiderata, you remember the tumult of the Vietnam War. During that tragic upheaval this beautiful poetic proclamation was in wide circulation.
"Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons."
The Desiderata is a therapeutic manifesto written as a prose poem by Max Ehrmann in 1927. It offers a semblance of sanity to a troubled world. Ehrmann was a philosopher of German descent who was born in 1872, grew up in Indiana, studied at Harvard, and died in 1945. He witnessed in his life the twin holocausts of two world wars.
Ehrmann's enduring message to the world is expressed in carefully chosen words that resonate with all people of all ages and all times — especially at times of volatile unrest, times like we're living through today. Foremost, it begs a civil dialogue.
"Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story."
Calming and filled with assurance, the Desiderata inspires gentle behavior. It is a primer for how to live peacefully and productively among diverse cultures, ethnic mixes and all varieties of personalities.
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"Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself."
The Desiderata was an early self-help guide that suggests approaches for healthy psycho-emotional balance and ego control amid the shifting winds of history.
"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."
Ehrmann warned that the world is a challenging place to navigate, both in our utilitarian material roles and in the ways we view and judge each other.
"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 Desiderata professes the nobility of individualism and the sanctity of self amid the diffusion of cultural norms and the forces of social conformity. Above all, it champions love.
"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."
Aging? The Desiderata was right on target, and still is, especially for baby boomers who today are facing legitimate crucibles as our bodies decay and our lives irrevocably change.
"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."
Connectivity is essential to the unity espoused by the Desiderata, which urges linkages beyond the immediate and into the infinite. With those connections comes an ethereal sense of belonging.
"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."
Hope in the future is spelled out clearly with a vision that borders on faith in the divine. The Desiderata offers something to hang onto when the world seems in collapse and confusion.
"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 finally, the Desiderata aspires for a peace-loving existence that spans the internal and the external, the within and the without, the material and the spiritual, the macrocosm and the microcosm, the simple and the complex, the finite and the infinite.
"And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."
Thanks to Max Ehrmann for the timeless Desiderata.
Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at email@example.com.