I had an extra hour to read yesterday afternoon after my long walk at Mission Creek Preserve. It was a beautiful day for it; warm, with clouds spilling over the mountains in the west, giving us some shade as we went along. Some yellow flowers are starting to poke through, green vines beginning creep up through the brush and soft blades of grass in every sunny spot.
There’s something about a long walk that gets people talking about things they otherwise wouldn’t find the time for. It creates a mental space for the deeper conversations. I know I’ve written about that before…ahh, here’s one, “Our Time is Not Infinite – Go For a Walk.”
Three hours of walking in the sun made me ready for a cup of tea and an hour snuggled quietly on the couch while my husband finished installing the laminate flooring in the entry way. He didn’t need my help.
“It was apropos of my saying that there is a danger of its own kind in extreme poverty. A young man might know too much want. She answered me: ’True! That is so! But there is a danger that overrides it;’ and after a time went on: ‘It is better not to know wants than not to know want!’” The Lady of the Shroud by Bram Stoker
This took me a while to understand, but it’s true. Extremes are the issue here. Extreme poverty causes humans to go to any length to get their basic needs met. They become selfish, hard, and cruel, hurting others and ultimately themselves. It’s almost impossible to escape it. And to not know want at all creates similar traits. The ultra-rich become spoiled, thinking everyone around them is theirs to do with as they will. They cannot see outside their own circumstances.
Each of us is much poorer or richer than someone else in the world. It’s something we could all remember.
For a moment I was thrown by “better not to know wants that not to know want.” But it dawned on me after another reading. It’s ok to be denied some things you want. It builds character and helps you understand that not everything is yours for the taking, better than not knowing want at all.
That doesn’t mean we deny those around us what we could give to make them happy for the sake of teaching a lesson. It means we should not worry ourselves too much when we can’t give them something they want. I’m thinking of raising children specifically, which is what they were speaking of in the book.
“My last word to you is, Be bold and honest, and fear not. Most things – even kingship – somewhere may now and again be won by the sword. A brave heart and a strong arm may go far. But whatever is so won cannot be held by merely the sword. Justice alone can hold in the long run. Where men trust they will follow, and the rank and file of people want to follow, not to lead. If it be your fortune to lead, be bold. Be wary, if you will exercise any other facilities that may aid or guard. Shrink from nothing. Avoid nothing that is honorable in itself. Take responsibility when such present itself. What other shrink from, accept. That is to be great in what world, little or big, you move. Fear nothing, no matter what kind danger may be or whence it came. The only real way to meet danger is to despise it – except with your brains. Meet it in the gate, not the hall.” The Lady of the Shroud by Bram Stoker
That’s a long list of brilliant advice for anyone coming of age and moving out into the world. Strength needs be balanced with justice.
And “Where men trust they will follow, and the rank and file of people want to follow, not to lead.” I think we have forgotten this in our own time of independence and equal rights. Humans are social animals. We want to be part of the family and the community, in peace and safety. It’s far easier for one to live in a group than alone. But without trust, we simply cannot follow, shouldn’t follow.
Speaking for myself, the past ten years, I’ve become less and less trustful, first of my government leadership on all levels, and then of the people themselves, my neighbors. It seems we have fallen to extremes and have become selfish and cruel to each other, spurred to violence at any turn of phrase, easily offended by others whether intentional or incidental.
The advice of every line is a tall order for those going into the world today. But think what it would mean if you followed it. One human taking responsibility for that which is before them, strong and kind, meeting danger without fear or shrinking, whether they be a big or small person in society, can change the world immediately around them. That life inspires those around them to do the same, and those around them to do the same in turn, creating a ripple of integrity that can do wonders unimaginable.
It reminds me of my own mother’s question (and probably yours), “If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?” I’ll meet the day and those I meet in it with strength and gentleness. I’ll stand my ground with love. I’ll not shrink for what I am responsible for doing, despite the fear and anger around me. My “friends” may be jumping off a cliff, but I’ll do my best to do something smarter, and maybe give others someone to follow.
If you’re interested in reading more of my thoughts inspired by this book, hop back to my first post, Stoker’s The Lady of the Shroud.