Thursday, January 18, 2007

Active or Passive?

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
Having taken arms against a sea of troubles (without ever having ended them) while suffering those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at a quite startling rate, I must say that the concept of 'nobility' being involved had to have been 'in the mind' as I never found it in the field.

I was taken by the 'nobility of action' concept when I first read the soliloquy at fifteen, introduced to it by an excellent teacher who happened to have been a veteran of Iwo Jima. He mentioned once that he weighed 129 pounds when he finally left that tiny little island but a fifteen year old (and some fifty year olds) can't process the import of that statement.
To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, And a time to die;
A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, And a time to heal;
A time to break down, And a time to build up;
A time to weep, And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, And a time to lose;
A time to keep, And a time to throw away;
A time to tear, And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, And a time to speak;
A time to love, And a time to hate;
A time of war, And a time of peace.
Would that that had been the lesson grasped at fifteen but who at fifteen knows about the aches under the scars? Some were well worth it, to be sure. In fact, there are some that have proven invaluable - but there are many more that someone with a bit more patience would easily have avoided. Sometimes rough hands and scars are only evidence of impatience and the ability to survive.

There is a saying in Italian: "E se faccio un buco nel'acqua?" ('And if I make a hole in the water?') that is used to describe the fear of other's opinion that prevents many young Italians from attempting opportunities with the potential for great material reward but with uncertain outcome. I believe that 'fear' to reflect the feelings of a large percentage of Europeans and to also reflect the feelings of a growing percentage of Americans. It may be that a search for security among the herd defines the "passive observation" that Chuck addressed in the previous post. The herd mentality is a valuable survival technique when there are predators around. Unless, of course, the predators are men.

We are best served by paying attention to the observations of those who are able to identify the season and ready and willing to rise with their aches to raise the anchor in order to set sail once again.


truepeers said...

I think the herd mentality can be a valuable survival technique even when the predators are human - not always, because there is indeed a season for everything - but often. To avoid being singled out as the victim of the group - whether as a villain or a hero - prolongs life, by and large. But sometimes we need the hero who risks having a short but interesting life instead of anonymous conformity into old age, if the group as a whole is going to survive our other. At those moments, if we can't be heroes, we should at least find the courage loyally to follow, to escape our fear of death that traps us in our sins.

But it's damned hard, isn't it? We need the poets, we need to love our culture and not our guilt. Thanks for the jolt, Rick

Anonymous said...



Luther said...

So clichéd, but great post Rick. The Italian saying is wonderful metaphor. Very deep...

But there are times when rough hands and scars are symbols of steadfastness, and not merely impatience. And nobility can be found in the oddest places.

Fresh Air said...

Powerful essay about this very subject by Roger Scruton here: The End of Courage.

Very worthwhile reading.

ex-democrat said...

rick - hamlet speaks of living by fear of death; your europeans express living by fear of life. for me, america means living by a love of life.

buddy larsen said...

nice post. reminded me of a favorite quote, from Aeschylus:

He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.

Rick Ballard said...


"And nobility can be found in the oddest places."

History records that it generally is. I'm curious as to whether it was the passage from the soliloquy or that from Ecclesiastes that you found clichéd? "Sometimes" /= always. The manner in which one gains ones living is rarely determinative regarding virtue.


I think Hamlet feared what comes after death rather than death itself (at least that's my interpretation of what "But that the dread of something after death" means. Europeans of the sort I described are the poisonous fruit of the Endarkenment's elevation of reason to the godhead. If one can reason oneself into agreement that there is nothing after death then life - however miserable - is to be clutched so tightly that all fingernails will be lost upon its inevitable termination. The essay cited by FA provides a better examination of the subject than I could possibly produce.


The estimates of the time at which Ecclesiastes was written range from coterminous with Aeschylus to 500 years prior.

"New!" may be a bigger lie than "Free!".

Oh well, back to the whetstone.

OT - Blogger really sux.

gumshoe said...

Buddy Larsen said...
nice post. reminded me of a favorite quote, from Aeschylus:

He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
7:55 AM, January 19, 2007

Rick Ballard said:


The estimates of the time at which Ecclesiastes was written range from coterminous with Aeschylus to 500 years prior.

"New!" may be a bigger lie than "Free!".

Oh well, back to the whetstone.

OT - Blogger really sux.


yes,Rick,blogger really sux.

it just ate my previous
reply to Buddy.

so here's take two:

Buddy -

i think Aeschylus would have been refering to
a G_d other than the Hebrew...maybe Zeus??

there are Hebrew writings condemning the morals and behavior of the "Hellenists"...

does anyone know of writings that examine or recount
conflict/battles between the Greeks and Hebrews?

Luther said...

LOL Rick.

Talk about not being able to write clearly...what I meant to say was that my written appreciation of your post i.e. "great post Rick" was a clichéd phrase. It was not a comment on the particulars of your post.

That is an excellent essay that FA linked to. Risking all can be its own reward. I do rather like the metaphor offered by 'Don Juan', with death always lurking behind one's left shoulder. It keeps him close, familiar and cognizant in the mind, forces one to focus on the uniqueness of self-aware life, and to be prepared to fight for its continuation.

loner said...

Our young people are the future. We must provide for them. We must give them the positive leadership they're looking for...You manage things; you lead people.


You manage things, you lead people. We went overboard on management and forgot about leadership. It might help if we ran the MBAs out of Washington.


Leadership is a two-way street, loyalty up and loyalty down. Respect for one's superiors; care for one's crew.


Life was simple before World War II. After that, we had systems.


Humans are allergic to change.

—Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

Smart woman. Sound, in my experience, advice from same:

If it's a good idea, go ahead and do it. It's much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.


As to the Prince, I agree with Harold Bloom's observation that Friedrich Nietzsche got him "right, seeing him not as the man who thinks too much but rather as the man who thinks too well" in The Birth of Tragedy:

Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion: that is the doctrine of Hamlet, not that cheap wisdom of Jack the Dreamer who reflects too much, and, as it were, from an excess of possibilities does not get around to action. Not reflection, no—true knowledge, an insight into the horrible truth, outweighs any motive for action...

Blogger sucks.

Rick Ballard said...

"does anyone know of writings that examine or recount
conflict/battles between the Greeks and Hebrews?"

If you count Alexander as a Greek then I believe that he had some very minor problems while passing through Israel on his way to what would become Alexandria. The ME was ruled by his 'heirs' until the Romans did their thing on Greece.

The Greeks had planted colonies and entrepots all over the Med from about 700-600BC up through the Peleponnesian fracas but I don't recall that they were terribly concerned about the Hebrews - and to the Hebrews the Greeks would have been polytheist gentiles. Not a combination that would have mixed very easily outside of trade until after the founding of Alexandria.

loner said...

A couple of things, mostly from memory, regarding the Hellenes and Hebrews while blogger seems to be behaving:

The Jews were in conflict with and often unwilling subjects of the eastern empires in the post-Exodus to Alexander epoch. Alexander had a tough time with Tyre and the inhabitants of Gaza reportedly fought to the last man, but the Jews and Jerusalem provided an example to the Egyptians by welcoming him as a fulfiller of prophesies, etc. Post-Alexander there was conflict over control of the region between Ptolemy (to whom it was awarded) and Seleucus (to whom it wasn't) and eventually it changed hands. Assimilation seemed to be working for awhile, but then there was reaction followed by persecution followed by revolt. Revolt succeeded for the usual reasons—timely deaths and third-party intervention. Assimilation failed.

...and so, hopefully, it went. I don't remember any specific history of the relationship. I did read about the Maccabees in school. Hanukkah is a seasonal reminder of those times.

Rick Ballard said...

I did forget about Antiochus - the story of the Maccabees should not have slipped my mind.

loner said...

I wrote a long Grace Hopper related post which was eaten earlier. I see I left out that I've been thinking on how risk aversion has been institutionalized over the years.

I was once referred to by my boss as the Czar of Alumni Records in a staff meeting attended by a large number of people. This was in 1983. I was 25. Most people knew what he meant. He was not a boss to whom I felt much loyalty. My loyalty then was to the integrity of my data and to the privacy of the individuals whose personal information it contained. He was a manager. Later, my loyalty was given to three men for whom I worked. They were leaders.

Change is a constant and more of one with each passing day. My allergic reaction is, I think, worse. Perhaps this is common.

Luther said...

Why is it, after a while, it all becomes somewhat elitist. Does it come down to intellect? Does it come down to education? Does it come down to writing ability? Does it come down to life experiences? Just what determines who gets to speak and be responded to, even as a small part of the larger dialog. My last comment here. Respect you all, immensely.

Rick Ballard said...


Are you sure those are fair questions? I try to respond in comments when asked something directly or when I don't feel I understand a comment (or when my reading comprehension skills fail - as they did with your response).

Perhaps they've failed again but I don't understand your comment. I don't think that you can write "I do rather like the metaphor offered by 'Don Juan', with death always lurking behind one's left shoulder." and then accuse me of intellectualism.

Why, I positively refute the argument and offer the majority of my posts as absolute proof in the expectation that any reasonably minded individual would concur with my judgement!

Luther said...


Though it may seem otherwise, and though I am immediately violating my last post, my diatribe was not directed at you. As I said, I respect all here, immensely. I'm just more of a doer than a thinker/writer. There are different leagues/units in this war. I just don't fit this particular expression, that's all. We all work toward the same end. I just need to find a better way for me to contribute.

BTW, blogger does sux.

loner said...


It comes down to not caring that this medium for communication has serious limitations and then being yourself for yourself (and whoever might find what you have to say of interest regardless of whether or not they take the times to say so.) For what it's worth, I hope you'll reconsider.


gumshoe said...

rick and loner -

thanks for the replies to my Hebrews/Greeks questions.