Monday, 6 June 2016

"Good, better, best ...

... never, never rest, 'til your good is better, and your better, best."   (- St. Jerome)

That seems like such a tall order right now. But the worse things are, the more I need to remember it.

For the past few weeks I have been struggling more than usual with my tendency to ruminate over slings and arrows aimed in my general direction. It is a complicated situation which fortunately has nothing to do with my home life or my work life but affects me in a more public way. But my post is not about that - it's really just about me trying to smack myself upside the head and do better at being better.

I decided to dig into my digital file of quotations and little verses that encapsulate Things I Should Remember. They sum up life lessons that I have learned through the years, sometimes painfully. They also represent life lessons that I have yet to master. They are a beacon of goodness that I can read and say, Yes, this is important, and without this, I am not fit to be around other people.

So I dug into the file, because I've been grumpy lately, and because why save the good stuff in a file, real or digital, and never get around to using it?

Samuel Johnson had two bits of advice that made it into my file. Since I have what I consider to be very high standards for my file of good stuff, that made me sit up and take notice. What I noticed first was that I don't have a clue who Samuel Johnson is. So I Googled him (of course), and if you are likewise wondering what kind of person he was and what he did, go to this link for a short Wikipedia article that will fill you in.

Here is the first quotation from him that I liked:

“Reproof should not exhaust its power upon petty failings.”

How true that is. Save your disapproval for the big stuff. Don't use a peashooter on every little thing. If something big comes along, and you can do some good with your objections, load up a cannon, aim carefully, and put things right. I'm thinking that may not be the best analogy because a cannon is kind of overkill most of the time, but analogies never were my strong suit. I have a very literal mind. But I think I get his point.

And Sam again:

"To hear complaints is wearisome alike to the wretched and the happy."

Other people might be happy, or not, but it doesn't matter - nobody wants to listen to me whine. I still want to whine, badly. But it's not going to win friends and influence people, as Dale Carnegie put it. Instead, it will make me look like a big whinypants. Maybe even a Whiny McWhinypants. Because I would BE one.

So, how should I be behaving instead?

A long time ago, Aristotle said:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

And he was right. Maybe it's hard right now not to reply to the insults and innuendo, but with practice, maybe it will get easier. And when it's finally easier, I will hopefully be a slightly better person.

I'm trying, but - oh, man, this is hard. Like HARD hard. Like SISYPHUS hard. If you'd like a breather from all the stern self-talk I'm sharing here, have a look at this video, which is much cuter than a quote from Wikipedia about Sisyphus would be, but makes the same point.

That video is really, REALLY cute. Did you skip it? I'll wait while you backtrack. It is an excellent visual representation of how I feel right now .......

Oh. Ohhhh. I believe I am guilty of whining right there. I'm sorry. 

Moving along now, with my big backpack of woe. I do believe the next verse sums up what I should be focusing on, instead of what I should not be focusing on. There is a subtle but important difference between the two.

Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.

-John Wesley

That covers all the bases, I think.

And it brings me to a quote my mother has loved all her life, taught to her by her father, and taught by her to me:

"I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."   (commonly attributed to Stephen Grellet, Quaker missionary)

There is no lack of inspiration here to be a better person, but I'm really starting to think I need a rubber mallet to pound this stuff into my head. Wish me luck, please, and pass the mallet.

Bad thoughts, listen up:

Fly away now ... far, far away. Whiny McWhinypants has spoken.




Steve Reed said...

I used to keep a file of inspirational quotes, and now I'm wondering what I did with it. Oops!

In any case, it's unreasonable to expect your life or your reactions to all the disparate elements of your existence to adhere to a brief little snippet of wisdom. Quotes are inspiring and motivating but we're not going to live up to them all the time. I bet St. Jerome had plenty of times when he just didn't feel like doing his best. (Then again, he WAS a saint.)

37paddington said...

I ruminate too, unless I distract myself with work or play. Or sleep. We have the minds we have, unfortunately. Quotes help me too.

dinthebeast said...

All I really have to say here concerns the "Do all the good you can" verse. You don't really ever know how much you can until after you already have, so to speak. You may feel as if you should be able to do more, but maybe not. And that's probably OK. I find it to be a balance between contentment and complacency, but I will note for full disclosure that my attitude was different before my stroke.
Also, sometimes I take not complaining to an unhealthy extreme.

-Doug in Oakland

Elephant's Child said...

You put me to shame.
I am a firm believer in 'give us this day our daily whinge' on the basis that things kept in the dark fester and grow. I do try and limit it though.
And that poor, exhausted mama cat.
Love that bird photo. Never mind wishes being horses, I would love, love, love to be able to fly.

Geo. said...

Brains are such complicated things, it's easy dwell on their negative recall, associative and search engines. When that happens to me too much I go see my therapist. She's better than a rubber mallet --got me meditating too. Ok, I do have a rubber mallet but only use it to seat oil seals into he old VW's engine.

jenny_o said...

I'm far from being a saint. But I'd just like to feel I'm putting up a bit of a fight to be better :)

jenny_o said...

Distractions are good, yes. I need to remember that.

jenny_o said...

Well, yes, there IS such a thing as not enough complaining, you're right. I don't think I have that problem, though :)

jenny_o said...

Aha! You watched the video :) Thank you. I would love to be able to fly, too. Sometimes when I am walking a bird will fly so close by I can hear its feathers rustling. It's a wonderful glimpse of a different kind of life.

jenny_o said...

This is my self-therapy, I guess - behavioral modification via reading and thinking and writing. And a rubber mallet. Which we bought years ago to pound tent pegs in the ground. They are a useful implement.

Chicken said...

Doug makes a good point-sometimes you have to vent a little. And that's why we are here. And always on your side.

Chicken said...

Great conversation, Jenny. I think we all struggle with this. Well, some people don't, maybe, but thinking-always-want-to-be-better-tomorrow types do. So who's making you feel bad? I'm going to find me some muscle and pay them a visit. Who's in?

jenny_o said...

Haha - it's good to have friends! Thanks for the offer, but it's okay. It's a good learning opportunity :)

jenny_o said...

Thanks, Chickie. Actually I've been venting quite a bit to my husband, and thought it was about time to take a different approach :) It's better now than it was. Time and perspective - two great healers.

Betsy MacWhinney said...

Good luck, Jennio!

jenny_o said...

Thanks, Betsy. One must try :) And good luck to you, too.