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Archive for December, 2008

IF [Annotated]

Published by under Uncategorized on December 13, 2008

The poem “IF” by Rudyard Kipling may be the most concise guide to honor and virtue ever written. It has inspired me from childhood and most closely matches the code I try to live my life by. In some parts the meaning may not be immediately apparent and given that much of my authoring is meant for my son, I’ve decided to clarify

1) If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

When things go wrong, people become short-sighted and look for someone to blame. If you are a leader or teacher, you are the first target. There is no consideration that things always go wrong, there is just a desire to feel like everything is resolved and that everything will be okay. Identifying the problem is the shortest route to resolution. The shortcut to identifing the problem is blame. Blame is way to offload panic. Don’t let panic and blame infect you and blur your path when it might only be a temporary thing. Remember that factual evidence is all that matters not the excitement or urgency surrounding it. A long-term view and consideration of a situation will lead to the truth. Planning and action cannot be based upon emotion. Fear will lead to animalistic short-sighted behavior.

2) If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,

It takes a powerful man to deny the beliefs of thousands of millions and stand alone against their doubt ridicule and sometimes hatred. Only those who can look at the masses and know that he is still in the right because he holds to evidence and personal experience over the opinions of people who can never discover or invent. Only a trust in yourself will make you your own man and without that trust you will never be able to depart from the herd. Without that departure from the herd you cannot be a trailblazer and a true leader. At the same time it is important to note that there is likely some reason why so many people believe something and while it is typically just because of the sheer weight of numbers, on a rare occasion there is something of value to be had from the crowd. However, for the most part, it is helpful to assume that the truthfulnes of a concept is inversely proportionate to the number of people who subscribe to it.

3) If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Patience is still an important virtue. The ability to put off instant gratification is a measure of consciousness and potency of an individual. Those who are impatient are little more than animals.

4) Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

When those around you are not playing by the rules but are pulling out all the stops to bury you socially, it may seem fair and in your best interest to commit to the fight as wholly as they do or find yourself ousted from your social group. It is however a marring of your honor. To lie, without life and death consequances is the very path of evil that divides people and destroys trust and love. It is better to suffer the consequences and suffer socially then to ever give away a single inch of your honor. If they need to lie, they have proven their lesser nature already. In the end, what is important is how you see yourself and what you know about yourself will previal. Lying is the heart of evil and fear.

5) Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

Hatred is arrogance. To not see that the people who hate you have reasons why they are so full of fear and hate is to once again losing that honorable part of you which separates you from the mindless masses. Forgiveness is a critical part of enlightenment. The ability to know that if you were in their shoes, not only would you do as them, you’d BE them. Stop believing you are some perfect magical being who deserves all the good you have and is the author of all your own good attributes. Your situation in life was handed to you by existence. Everything from your genetics to your nutrition has made you into what you are and given you the capabilities you have. If your neurochemistry was altered slightly, you would be full of rage as well. It’s been done in the lab and it’s being done every day to everyone you know. Alterations which are not the choice of the individual but of the environement. Forgive them for they know not what they do…

6) And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

Though you may be capable of immense self control far beyond those around you, when you believe in yourself and realise you ability was granted to you, you don’t have a need to shove it in people’s faces. While you cannot allow others’ feelings and fears to hold you back from doing what is right, niether should you flaunt your greater abilities and cause others to doubt themselves if there is no need to do so. When nothing but your opinion of yourself matters, you can allow others to feel that they can bring themselves up without showing them a great gulf between you. Do not discourage those who were less fortunate. Encourage them and show them the similarities between you so that they can believe that they can better themselves.

7) If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,

Imagination is the halmark of a true leader and inventor. To dream of better days for all is a admirable trait, but to hold too tightly on to over-idealized concepts is to invite disaster. When dreams are your master, you can no longer find the joy of the present and the appreciation of what currently is. To lose the value of the present hoping for better is a horrific loss; it is the loss of living and life itself. When dreaming of better be sure it is tempered with a satisfaction and thankfulness for the present.

8) If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;

There is a purpose to thought. The eventual outcome of thought should be action. If you only think of solutions but never put forward the effort to implement them, the thought is wasted. If you realize your errors but never implement a plan to help yourself overcome your short-comings, you have done nothing but decreased your faith in yourself. If you think of a thousand inventions but never implement one, what good have you done? Possibilities are infinite, but solutions are finite because our current context – the way things are right now – is also finite.

9) If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

Each time we meet triumph or disaster, our perception of which is which is based upon a very tiny perspective. We cannot know the untold happiness that may come about because of a ‘disaster’, and we cannot know the pain that may be in store because of a ‘triumph’. A million dollar jackpot could separate you from your family and the failure of an endeavor can open up doors of opportunity to a much brighter future. The world is ever changing and we must remember that “This too shall pass” so that we remain on an even keel with a positive attitude of thankfulness for whatever currently is.

10) If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

You cannot stop speaking simply because you know that you will be misunderstood and misrepresented. If you have wisdom to impart, you must do so even with the knowledge that it may be used for evil ends. It is not your responsibility to control that which is beyond you. Instead you must hold to your principles and do what you can to make life better for everyone. You must find peace in your attempt at good even when you must sometimes face that your intent was stripped and replaced by a more sinister purpose. Do the best you can and then find peace in the attempt. Learn what you can when things go awry but do not give in to discouragement.

11) Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

Attachment to the things you’ve accomplished and worked many long years for is natural. We try to prevent the loss of even the smallest things we do: “Hey, I just cleaned that up!”. We must, however, know that most of what we do will be utterly washed away moments after it is accomplished. This idea can make us feel helpless and small. It can be the very stongest of discouragement if it is allowed. We must find peace in the fact that everything we do does last, but simply not in the form we originally intended or attempted. You cannot help but leave your mark, whether it be good or bad. You must find satisfaction that what you have done has served its purpose and that you can do it all again or better yet: choose to do it slightly different with the knowledge of what brought down your first works. When discouraged by the loss of our works, we must be able to look closer to ourselves at the things that matter, such as loved-ones, and be reminded of what is truly valuable. We can find peace in the temporary nature of our accomplishments when we see that everything in the world is temporary on one scale or another. All we truly have is right now and allowing what is past to deny us the joy of future or present accomplishments is a shame indeed. Though what you’ve done may not seem to last, it has written an indelible mark on history regardless how small it may seem to you. And it will again.

12) If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;

While this is a second exhortion against attachement, it is also an exhortion to steer clear of fearful protectiveness of your current position that comes with attachement. To remember that most of what you have is by chance more than by plan anyway, it is merely a ‘winning’. As we have more to lose we many times draw in and avoid risk and thereby avoid opportunity. He doesn’t mean that you should be utterly reckless but that perhaps your protectiveness makes you perceive things as too risky when they are not. The greater the risk the greater the reward. Losing is simply a part of how the game of life works. Once you are at peace with this, it doesn’t upset you. If you allow loss in a game of random chance to keep you from trying again, then you have truly lost.

13) If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

It is always darkest before the dawn. So many times, if we had simply gone a little further, tried a little harder, held on just a little longer, we would have made it out the other side. In the game of life, you’ve never lost until the moment you have given up. Each failure along the road is one more step in the race you do not have to make again. Each hardship we have overcome is one more plateau before the summit. To strive is to live and to give up is to die. Find satisfaction in striving itself because even though the road may go backward a long way for a while and you may feel you’ve lost ground, it’s still the road you have to travel and so therefore each step that seems to take you backwards is, in fact, still a step forward on the path that leads to success.

14) If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,

To be able to help those at the bottom better themselves and to help temper the actions of those on top, you must be able to hold your core and see all sides. When resources are scarce, it seems appealing to exploit others or otherwise compromise principles for survival but to do so is to lose part of oneself. When resources come so easily to hand, it can be hard to forgive those less priveledged for their improper actions, but to do so is to forget your own fallibility. It is a trap that will lead you down another path of exploitation and evil: seeing those less fortunate as deserving their difficult lot in life, and seeing yourself as deserving your good fortune. To forget your good fortune and believe instead that you earned it is the worst of mankind’s flaws.

15) If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

A properly humble spirit allows us to see others foibles in a less intentional light. When we realize that we all have misunderstandings and make improper assumptions and we are all nothing more than little meat machines bumping into each other, it’s difficult to be ‘hurt’ when someone, even a close friend, becomes misled. After all, it could be us that was misled.

16) If all men count with you, but none too much,

We consider the feelings and thoughts of others and base our actions upon them as is correct in a honerable person. But when a person’s feeling and thoughts matters too much we give up our personal volition. We can unwittingly become a slave to their minds and actions. When executing the golden rule we must also be mindful whether or not others are playing by the same rules. We must require the same courtesies of them that we provide to others. Our determination of truth must still come from a scientific perspective, not a socially upheld notion.

17) If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Every moment of your life is ticking away. When we waste that life on feeling bad for ourselves, or angry at others, we’ve lost the joy of life. When we instead turn our attention to accomplishing those things which will bring us and others joy, we can feel a sense of accomplishment and have a knowledge of and pride in our own contribution, regardless of how it all pans out and regardless of anyone else’s perceptions. The more time we spend mourning what was or could have been, the less time we have in making what will be… better. Sieze not only the day, but the exhilaration of each moment.

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

In these principles, most of the joy of life will present itself to you and the pride in yourself and the honor you uphold will give you a life worthy of remembering on your death bed. A life without regret. By changing yourself you change the world. That is what it means to truly be a leader; A man.

–Rudyard Kipling

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