Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,
but for the heart to conquer it.

- Rabindranath Tagore

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Destiny, Grammar, and Gandhi

A wise man once said:

"Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny."

His name was Mohandas K. Gandhi. He lived a life that I believe was in the very least honorable. These words seem very acute and applicable. They are precise, which is why the copy I have on my wall has the verbs highlighted. He used the words "watch," "manage," "consider," "judge," "acknowledge," "understand," and "embrace." These apply very differently to their subjects, which is why he changed each as he went along. He also repeated the word "watch" several times. I think you could just as easily use the word "listen to" because it requires the same thing from the actor--passive observation. This is something we, as content consuming Americans, do well in some respects, but so poorly in some of the more important respects. We passively observe incredibly meaningless crap on the television to the extent that the number of hours of tv watching is a huge indicator of certain aspects of health. We don't seem to contemplate more weighty things like "Will sitting on a couch for 2 hours a day negatively effect my mobility when I am 70 years old." You may be wondering where I am going which all of this. I want to focus on a slightly different aspect of this quotation.

In my Iife, I've learned that words matter. Which words you use determines what you are trying to say, and much more, what you are trying to think. It is vital in thinking clearly to have accurate words to fit your abstract thought into useable information that you act upon. Many people find grammar and using correct diction to be arduous and a waste of time. Humbly, I think they are dead wrong. If the definition of integrity is simply some amorphous "being good" idea to you then you miss out on what it really means--to have all of the aspects of your life in line with the same values and principles. You can be a person of integrity and be a very bad person. In the same line of thinking, if you understand the word "socialist" to mean Soviet Communist, then you probably don't realize how many institutions here in our country are socialist: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, National Parks, and most if not all public works departments. The effects of labeling one side or the other with these words in a hyperbolic way only decreases the clarity of the discussion. So in that light I submit a new take on the original quotation:

Clarify your thoughts with clear language, for if you don't your words will be muddled. Clarify and scrutinize your words, for if you don't your actions will not mean what you wish them to. Compare the effects of your actions to your original thoughts, for they will reveal gaps in clarity and misconceptions. Examine your habits created by your actions, for they will reveal more fundamental and wide ranging assumptions you have about life. Accept your habits for what they are, but realize that as solid as they seem you are still responsible to change them. Your habits reveal your fundamental values and as you shape them, you shape your destiny.

This reminds me of one of my favorite little bits from the film _The Last Samurai_. Before the last battle Katsumoto, the samurai warlord, asks the American, "You believe a man can change his destiny?" To which Algren replies, "I think a man does what he can, until his destiny is revealed." I hope that these thoughts help each of you to understand more clearly what it is that you can do and how it affects your destiny. There are aspects of our destiny that only God can know. You will encounter things that you will never see coming. But, there are things within the realm of your control that most certainly affect the person you are becoming and, therefore, your destiny.

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