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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 09-Apr-08


Wednesday 09-April-08

Words of wisdom

Wisdom is in surprisingly short supply in our modern, mixed-up world, and it seems most in need where it should be found the most: in the governments of great nations and in the governance of powerful companies.

Seeking wisdom is an endless journey. It has been said that the wise person does not think him or herself wise. To do would be to declare the journey done. I don't know if there is even a complete description of wisdom, so I'll take the simple description of 'knowing the right thing to say and do', although 'right' itself is a philosophical labyrinth. Wisdom seems to have a lot to do with people and a lot to do with meaning. I think.

Below are three of the most famous and maybe most wise exhortations for living a good life, joined here in parallel so we can look across and seek perhaps some common and even deeper meaning.

-- Max Ehrmann
To Thine Own Self Be True
 -- spoken by Polonius in Hamlet, Act I, Scene III,
-- William Shakespeare
-- Rudyard Kipling
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
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.
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.

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.

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.
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.
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 whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Yet here, Laertes! Aboard, aboard for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail, And you are stay'd for.
There ... my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory.

Look thou character.
Give thy thoughts no tongue, Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg?d comrade.

Beware of entrance to a quarrel but, being in,
Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee.

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement.

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!


What do you take from this? A few common themes that resonate with me include:

  • Be happy in your own skin.
  • Do not burden others.
  • Have integrity.
  • See truth.
  • Persist.
  • Love.
  • Be.

Mmm. Sounds about right.

Your comments

I stumbled upon this...very wise words indeed!

-- April

 I was very happy to find this site. I was researching the word bystander to determine if I wanted to use the word bystander or onlooker in a recent blog post. I found the article on the bystander effect and felt a little better about humanity.

I was recently a first responder to a very bad car accident. I was with my two daughters . I pulled over and immediately ran to the car to assist. I was the only one there for a moment. The car had spun and flipped, but had landed upright. the doors were locked, and I had to get the driver to \"come to\" enough to unlock the door. I had never seen something so terrible. Her head had hit the windshield and she literally looked like Frankenstein. Soon other cars stopped. I was literally jumping up and down, crying for others to help, then began attending to her. I calmed myself enough to keep her calm. I braced her head and neck. I practice Reiki, so I said a quick prayer and let the energy flow. She had broken ribs, broken ankle and a serious head trauma. Not one other person came to help. Not one. I yelled for one to call her husband, and he did. But no one helped me with the difficult stuff.

I couldn't believe it. I really believe in the golden rule. I use it as a guide, and I think the world would be a completely different place if we all took it to heart. So I guess what I experienced was the Bystander Effect.

Thank you for this site. I plan to come here often. Lots of good practical advice. I added it to my list of favorite sites on my blog. kudos!

Gloria I

I think wisdom rests on more than one base, but one prerequisite is an understanding of the emotions which can so easily sabotage it. I have too many thoughts about emotions to type here, but I have posted them as an e-book at (free to read online or download, as preferred). Maybe it will prove helpful to someone - hope so:)

Best wishes,

Dave replies:
Very thoughtful and generous of you, Gordon. For everyone else, I'd thoroughly recommend reading Gordon's (truly free) book. What he doesn't mention here is that he's a medical doctor with a superb pedigree, and knows what he's talking about.

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