Lance Scranton: Literary lessons
A firestorm of controversy over teacher dedication and participation on committees generated a blaze of letters to the Daily Press last week.
While all parties have since concluded their respective “peace talks,” an indelible perception will linger on far into the future. The perception isn’t as important as the lessons each of us might be reminded of when something like this happens.
The first, and most enduring lesson is that something like this will happen again. Human nature being what it is, we should be reminded that in the long history of mankind, people say things that get others “fired up.”
In our Senior English class we have been reading Gilgamesh and the enduring reality of hubris reaching out and swiping away the commonest of sense. Gilgamesh eventually comes to the realization, after much searching, much pain, and many disappointments, that life is to be lived from a viewpoint best learned on the shoulders of those who have come before us.
Gilgamesh sails home from a revealing encounter with immortality and says to his friend Urshanabi, “this is the wall of Uruk, which no city on earth can equal.”
In effect, Gilgamesh finally realizes that his efforts to rebuke mortality are pointless and he should enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Seneca, the wise Greek philosopher realized the improbability of expecting anger to help very much when he was ordered by Emperor Claudius’ wife Agrippina to teach their young son who grew up to be the homicidal, treacherous Emperor we remember as Nero.
What was Seneca’s advice? “Worry not over things you cannot control, but be concerned about those things that you can.”
Aristotle was much more utilitarian in his attitude toward those who had offended his sensibilities. As a student of Plato, Aristotle believed that Plato lacked the sophistication of understanding of the human soul and of the slings and arrows of life.
Aristotle’s advice would be to, “Pursue happiness in accordance with activity that is virtuous because genuine happiness is not possible in the activities of the unjust.”
But, perhaps the ancients were just too old and lived in different times to fully appreciate the offenses which we suffer today. Maybe we should engage those who attack our best intentions and call into question our commitment and sacrifice.
Maybe. But when I am incensed by others and looking for someone to blame, I can’t help but catch a glimpse of myself in the very ones I am offended by and it gives me a great reason to pause.
Billy Joel, that modern-day, all-too-human, philosopher-songwriter put it best when singing about holding a rose but only feeling the thorns.
“And so it goes, and so it goes, and so too will this, I suppose.”
Focus on the rose, as there is too much beauty to get caught up in the thorns.
Too many celebrations of our efforts come out of our Craig Daily Press to be distracted by the few articles that get us all “fired up.”