By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index
The story is told of an emperor of Ancient Rome calling on his wisest counselors and advisors to tell him one statement that stayed true – for every person, of every class, every historical era and every situation.
This would be a statement of fact that could not be argued with.
This would not be a statement of faith or belief or intention.
This would not be an opinion or a position.
This would be a statement that held true for everyone of us, in every situation, for all time.
The one statement that prevailed was “This too, shall pass”.
Whatever is going on, peace or strife, productive employment or marginalized idleness, winter, summer, fall or spring, it doesn’t matter; what is happening now will not be frozen in time.
“This too, shall pass” stands true for children, for adults of all backgrounds and for those satisfied – or dissatisfied – with their current situations.
No situation, no matter how difficult, challenging or even wonderful will be permanent.
I had always assumed that “This too, shall pass” was perhaps the only statement that held true in spite of the swirl of ever-shifting trends, taste and history.
But thanks to a convergences of difficult and challenges circumstances lately, a new, equally universal, summary statement has emerged; “There is a lot you don’t know”.
Like “This too, shall pass”, “There is a lot you don’t know” is near universal in its application.
I find the older I get and the closer I look at any given area or aspect of life, the more I realize how little I know and how much there is to yet learn.
If you think NFTs, crypto-currencies, or the intricacies of international affairs, NASA photos or any particular investment strategies are complicated, if not contradictory, take a good look at what you thought you knew about almost anything.
From marriage to what constitutes a good breakfast to how you know who your real friends are, good luck with your best attempt at deciphering what is really going on.
In other words, not only do we never fully know the consequences of our actions and decisions, we virtually never even know what it is that we are deciding – let alone why or what those decisions or actions mean; now or some indefinite time later.
Given this dilemma, philosophers come to the rescue. Or at least one does.
Soren Kierkegaard, the “Father of Existentialism”, also known as the “dismal Dane” has, to put it simply, a direct answer to this problem.
If everything changes, and we can never know fully what we are doing or its implications and repercussions, we must, at the most basic level, just act – and accept the consequences.
I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations – one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it – you will regret both. – Soren Kierkegaard
From business decisions to relationship encounters to that next road trip, we will never know where the way ahead will take us.
Until we get there, of course. And then, it is obviously too late.
As Robert Frost put, we will never know the consequences or repercussions of “the road not taken”. We live life forwards and do our best to make sense of it looking backwards.
We as a society, unlike virtually every society and culture before us, do not hold poetry in a very high regard, but it is our loss, as poets attempt to put uncertainties and aspirations in forms that we, sometimes for centuries, marvel at and puzzle over.
For example, here is a short poem by a contemporary American writer;
It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings. – Wendell Berry
Our search for certainties and easy answers rarely serves us well, and as Berry puts it, “the mind that is not baffled is not employed”.
Far too many of us are not “baffled” if not enraged by the circumstances around us on a daily basis.
From high prices at the grocery store to homeless shelters on our city streets, much of life is not what we expected it to be – and not even remotely close to what more and more of us thought we knew about life at this time.
But those things, too, won’t last long.
The terms “This too, shall pass” and “There is a lot you don’t know” stand like bookends across our life spans and in every conversation or business transaction, from buying groceries to signing a multi-million dollar contract.