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Books, Poems, Thoughts

How should people of good will live in this fractured time?

Here are some bullet points to consider, some suggestions of how to survive with integrity in an environment which seems to have become inimical to good sense, tolerance and civilised values:
 
  • Listen to others, be polite and attentive, while holding firm to what you believe to be right.
  • Do not provoke, or allow yourself to be provoked, but don’t feign agreement when you disagree.
  • In general, keep quiet, until you know it is the time to speak.
  • If asked for your opinion, give it – straightforwardly and unapologetically.
  • If people do not understand you, or cannot hear what you are saying, walk away. (Do not ‘cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces’ [Matthew 7:6].)
  • Do not engage in pointless abuse.
  • Do not crow when you are proved right (this might not be until after you are dead anyway).
  • Maintain a quiet dignity. Do what is honourable, just and true.
  • Remember that, even when you are justifiably and absolutely convinced that you are more right than those on the other side, you are still a fallible human being and never entirely right about anything, never able to see the complete picture or fully understand yourself, let alone anyone else.
  • Be careful in what you read, and how you read. Keep exercising discrimination. Do not be taken in, or succumb to the temptation to believe in/accept easy answers.
  • Stay centred. If you decide to participate in ‘this twittering world’, as T.S. Eliot so presciently described our milieu in Burnt Norton, do so with care and try not to lose yourself in it.
  • Do not become desensitised. Do not become so detached, so accepting (through familiarity, tiredness, or despair) that, when the moment of individual testing arrives, you fail, or just fail to notice its arrival.
  • Stay fully alive to the moment, do not turn away from it or refuse to live in it. Be your best self, so that your truth will come into play when it needs to, whatever the personal cost.
  • Recognise the moment when we have to go to war (literally and/or figuratively).
 
Two texts to ponder, in relation to the above:
 
From T.S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton:
 
Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.
 
 
And J. Russell Lowell’s great hymn, best sung to the tune Ebenezer:
 
 
Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,
Offering each the bloom or blight –
And the choice goes by for ever
‘Twixt that darkness and that light.
 

Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses,
While the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue
Of the faith they had denied.
 

By the light of burning martyrs,
Christ, thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calvaries ever
With the Cross that turns not back.
New occasions teach new duties;
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward
Who would keep abreast of truth.
 

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet ’tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong –
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.