Friday, October 7, 2011

Living in the present: Combining history and the future (Desiderata/Steve Jobs)

Desiderata - Max Ehrmann 1872-1945
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.


In 1986, at the age of 13, I left my very prim and proper (but still state run) Middle School in rural England and I was given a photocopy of this poem at our "graduation" assembly. (The British don't do Graduation, but this was the best way I could describe it).

For some reason, I am not sure why -because heck, I was 13- this poem struck a cord with me, and every so often I still refer to it.  Like a mental reset; a reminder of how to move through life.

Also, in 1986, I remember going on a field trip to a technical college to "play" with their computers.  I walked into a room that housed about 10 or 15 Macintosh computers.  They seemed all wonderful and shiny compared to the "single" Sinclair ZX81 that was our schools only computer at the time.  The trip didn't foster my love for writing computer programs.  I didn't head out of the colleges "computer lab" and immediately write an operating system.  Ten years down the line, I did end up in a "computer" related career as a Network Engineer, but at the age of 13 I still wanted to .. actually I don't remember what I wanted to do.  If truth be told I still don't.

This week, as everyone knows, Steve Jobs passed away after a long battle with cancer.  The one speech that appears to have gone "viral" over the last few days is the Commencement speech he gave at Stanford in 2005.  Rightly so, it's a powerful and inspiring speech.

Today I was thinking not only about Steve's speech, but the poem I was given at the age of 13.  It lead me to contemplate the changes we have all experienced over the last 25 years.  The world my son lives in is so much different to the one I grew up in.

Our house is filled with computers and gadgets, all of them that glow and beep in a variety of tones. He can use a computer mouse (I was over 20 before I got a chance to do that).  He understands the words, 'Internet', 'Log-on', 'account', 'web-page', 'youtube', 'iPod', 'iPad' and of course 'Apple'.  He doesn't turn to a book for information, he turns to the computer.  He is growing up in a world where we are all so connected.  He is able to see his grandparent's over a video-call whenever we are able, despite living in a different country.  He doesn't even need to get out of his 'Jammies'.   When I was 13, I lived 2 hours from my Grandparents and when we saw them it was a major expedition.

Seeing the changes in this world is wonderful, beautiful and if truth be told slightly scary.  Seeing the advances we have made, make me excited to see what the world will hold for D.

But regardless of the the excitement and enthusiasm for moving forward, we must always ensure we look back.  The bright, shiny and new have a lot to offer, but so does, the dusty and old.  In High School and college I decided to take a few courses in History.  Something then told me, that looking to the past was just as important as looking to the future.  The past keeps us grounded.  The past keeps us honest. The past allows us to learn from mistakes; whether they are our own or societies.  Without looking at the past we can never move our society forward.  Without learning from previous errors we will always be destined to re-make the same mistakes. We will stagnate and well… stop.  

To allow us to be wholly in the present we need to take BOTH the future and the past and be prepared to work with them both.  We need to ensure that our history isn't lost because it is no longer sparkling and new.

So as I am typing here, listening to the Commencement speech in the background, I think that when D leaves Middle school, the likelihood would be that instead of being given a photocopy of a poem, he will be shown Steve Job's speech at his graduation.  The world never stands still, but always moves forward.  We progress.

Not a bad thing.  It's exciting.  However, I still will give him a copy of Desiderata regardless.  When progressing forward we must always ensure we look back.  How else can we learn from our mistakes.

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