USEFUL, HONOURABLE, COMPASSIONATE – on a quote of Emersons.

Photo taken on Inishmaan, Arran Islands.

USEFUL, HONOURABLE, COMPASSIONATE

I love this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, a 19th century American writer who was a pioneer in exploring and expressing ecological consciousness, & in trying to find a right way for the individual in the moral labyrinth of mass society. The terms he lays out here for an active & least compromised existence still ring true.

Useful, honorable, compassionate – imagine if we were to weigh all of our significant decisions by these three measures? How difficult that would make life for some of us all the time, & for all of us some of the time!

It is one thing to quote such strong & difficult principles – ones even more difficult for an individual to live up to in 2021 than they were in Emerson’s time – and another thing entirely to live up to them, a fact of mass life that is never out of our faces these days. Nevertheless to have an ideal is a good thing – you can progress towards ideals while accepting you’ll never attain them. Half a mountain is better than no climb.

What he has to say about happiness is more timely still perhaps. Who of sober mind can believe we are facing into happy years ahead, for anyone?

Now more than ever the pursuit of happiness is a fruitless pursuit in our world. Obviously many of the kinds of happiness we are herded to pursue are ever more base, brief, & illusory. But beyond this is the knowledge we all have from the inside that true happiness cannot be pursued, cannot be caught – it descends upon us out of the blue. Or we ascend unto it. Either way it is when we get a taste of what it is like to be a god for a minute, or an hour, or a whole golden summer in our youth or old age if we are very lucky.

Happiness is happenstance & operates outside any human power of prediction. You cannot plan or program it, only hope that you might be elected now and then to encounter it.