Another week has passed. Has much changed? By now, it may seem that time is passing slower than usual, but it’s all a matter of perspective.
It is said that the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once proclaimed:
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river”
yet in the same way that water shapes the stones on the river bed, over the course of the last two thousand years those meme-friendly words have been changed from their original form. If we take a closer look at this quote in the Stanford Encyclopedia, we can see that in his Ionic dialect, Heraclitus’ original words were:
potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei
or : “those stepping into rivers stay the same and other waters flow” [my translation].
Naturally, the reason I made a note of the more meme-onic version of the quote this week was to share its perceived wisdom on this blog; because the notion that no event – no matter how distressing – will ever happen to us again in quite the same way is a small comfort in a pretty stressful world.
Yet, the Stanford reading does give us further insight to the ambiguity in Heraclitus’ words as he was often playful or poetic. Thus, it may be that people are always in a state of flux or change, as well as the river itself being different every time it’s visited because of the new waters flowing through it.
Either way, words of received wisdom take the mind to a different place and a different space which is no bad thing during these testing times. Some days, words fail me as they may be failing you now, which is then your time to do your yoga and/or visualise your favourite place, your favourite space – where words simply don’t matter as much.
I’m in a fairly philosophical mood as I’ve been required to read a lot of philosophy of late. The latest book to have landed on my desk is a book on Kant and his key concept of Enlightenment, or Aufklärung in its original German form. In Kant’s view, Enlightenment is what we all must strive for at all times; as it is includes the key features of thinking for oneself, maturity and using reason to improve our current situation.
Quite timely, as it would seem that the world in general needs to improve its current situation. Kant believed that by asking ourselves three key questions, we can strive to work continuously to improve our condition. So let’s see if they still work in 2020.
Kant’s key questions:
What do we know?
We know that staying in our homes will help save lives.
What can you do?
All we can do is look after each other and work to the best of our ability.
What can we hope for?
We can hope that the scientists discover a vaccine, as they’ve done for many other of the world’s pandemics.
From a work point of view, and in order to prioritise the use of our time, we must decide for ourselves what’s most important, and Kant’s key questions seem are a great place to start: “What do I know?” “What can I do?” “What can I hope for?”
At home, I’ve been trying to catch up on lost time. I was tasked to read Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe by my parents with a present on my 21st birthday and was asked the question, why is it then Prime Minister Tony Blair‘s favourite book? I’m still not sure, but more than twenty years later I hope I’ll soon find out. Could it be Ivanhoe’s stoicism in the face or danger? Or his ambition?
“ follow the only course that does not lead to desecration and disgrace”from Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe
For a few years at least, it felt like ambition was the key to everything. It’s certainly vital, and applicable to everyone no matter their situation. I’m not certain how much ambition I had when I was actually 21 – the writing was very much on the wall: Why wait why wonder why worry? was my mantra, or at least on the wall of the alehouse I used to frequent when I was actually 21.
In order to assuage at least some of the guilt of my wasted years, and having checked out some parental advice here on Thrive Global, I’ve have been doing a lot of reading with my son since lockdown began. Our current book by Tom Palmer is honestly one of the most enjoyable books I’m reading at the moment. It has reminded me that it’s normal to feel anxious and worried. The hero on the book has ups and downs, and his stomach takes twists and turns that I’d forgotten existed thirty years on from the time that being selected for the team on Saturday was the be all and end all of my week.
What Heraclitus may have been reminding us with his river quote is still applicable today: neither memories, nor our imagination, are the events themselves. We must count our blessings, and – to continue with the water and yoga metaphors – go with the flow.
So my burning ambition in my current moment as the weekend approaches is this : to keep sharing stories with my family whilst toasting my white, fluffy marshmallows – and if the wine flows, maybe some ancient wisdom too! I’m happy with that.
Have a great week and stay safe.