Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Deserts and Barbarians

I read an interesting passage today from a book called “Plain Living, High Thinking” In this chapter he was discussing the importance of self-culture in the area of reading and the like. He points out the errors in putting too much focus in one area and how it actually can cause you to know less. His point is, the person who devotes themselves to a single subject of study will never become wholly master even of that; because so close is the connection between the various branches and departments of human knowledge and they subtly run into or clash upon one another. In trying to become an expert one actually becomes extremely ignorant. He knows nothing because he knows little, or only what can be known about one subject without perspective of other things. He quotes Lord Lytton,
“To sail around the world, you must put in at many harbors, if not for rest, at least for supplies. Therefore I say to each person, as far as you can, partly for excellence in your special mental calling, and more importantly, for completion of your end in existence, strive while improving your one talent to enrich your whole capital as a person. It is by this way that you escape from that wretched narrow-mindedness which is the characteristic of every one who cultivates their specialty alone.”
He goes on to give an illustration I like that goes something like this;
“To clarify, let me say that whatever your calling, If you only cultivate that calling to the exclusion of all else, you will become as narrow-minded as the Chinese when they placed on the map of the world the Celestial Empire, with all its hamlets and villages in full detail, and outside the boundaries of the Empire they make dots and lines with the subscription, “To deserts unknown, inhabited by barbarians.”

It made me think how foolish a person would be if they pursued the position of a judge and only studied law without history or psychology. How could one judge justly without an understanding of mercy as seen in literature. Or could one play music without appreciating Fine Art, or an understanding of human nature? How would they appeal to the soul of the masses? On and on the illustrations go. One has only to travel to another country, to learn the U.S. isn’t the center of the world and they come home with a new appreciation for a once unknown race or culture.
The word enlighten presupposes we are in some darkness. Broadening our horizons, we know not how it can impact things we are busy doing.
Don’t you think?

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Regardless of how old I grow, I will never forget the struggles of growing up and finding, or accepting, ones own identity. In addition, my son Eric works with youth and so when ever I read I am reminded of the struggle of youth. I ran across the following quote and wish each child could truly appreciate how unique and valuable they are. Adults too.

"In self-culture, by distinctly recognizing his own individual powers, as originally and specifically belonging to his mind, a man is less likely to waste his strength in cultivating those faculties which are dormant or feeble. He is taught also to be contented with the mental place assigned him among his fellows, and not to attempt to imitate those from which he differs essentially by natural constitutions. He thus avoids self-contradiction - the source of all false pretense and putting on artificial airs.
By reflecting on the harmony and beauty which spring in all nature from variety, he sees that his individuality is but a part of a wide and consummate plan.
A wood in which the gnarled oak, the delicate larch, the graceful birch, the wide-spreading beech, the old thorn, even the rough briar, and the fern in the foreground, are all varieties essential to the general effect of beauty or grandeur in the landscape; teaching him a lesson of content with the condition assigned to him here, by that Power which formed his soul as well as the trees he is gazing upon, and appointed him his place, as it has theirs, in this great whole.
To fill that place well, however humble it may be, he feels is his duty , the sole purpose for which he was placed here. He has no sure instincts to guide him to this end. He must accomplish this by labor in the right direction." --"Evening thoughts," by a Physician