Friday, 1 September 2006

Kipling

After a long struggle against the odds the University has finally decided that it is too expensive for the European Social Fund to keep me and they don't want to. I shall be receiving my redundancy notice probably on Monday with the option of working my four week notice or taking payment in lieu.

I suppose, if I am honest, a lot of what I am doing at the office now is displacement activity and my mind has been (for some strange reason) drifting towards Kipling and trying to re-work him. Perhaps it is because the lines about, ‘if you can keep your head when those about you are losing theirs’ has an awful lot to do with financing under the European Social Fund and ‘start again from your beginnings’ is what I seem to be doing right now.

I was never satisfied with his poem If... because it listed a series of tasks which led to a rather pointless and meaningless reward – the misguided idea of the market economy or a contract: you do something in return for something else? It embodies the Protestant Work Ethic with its idea of filling every second with work – which has actually come to mean charging around in a blazing hurry and not stopping to look, admire and be grateful.

Nevertheless I still like to analyse his ideas carefully and select those things which seem good. We should not reject anything nor accept anything wholesale because almost everything has elements of wisdom mixed in with elements of foolishness, injustice or cruelty. The same was true of Kipling's poem. It had excellent advice attached to a flawed framework. The only thing to do was to re-work it into another poem. That is what human thought and discourse actually are all about – reworking ideas, sifting through them and trying to sort the wheat from the chaff. The biggest mistake would be to treat ideas as a sort of quantum level which we jump into and thereby label ourselves the same way an electron does when it jumps from one orbital to another. That is the problem with the great tyrannies of doctrine and leadership. Life is far more messy and interesting than that. 

Kipling's idea was ‘rewards and fairies’ which seems to imply the one was as far-fetched as the other and which rather nullifies the point of the poem, don't you think? So no If - for me. Just, Try - the suggestions as good ideas for their own sake and no rewards or fairies at the end..

Try–
Try to keep your head when all about you
Have lost theirs and claim you are to blame;
Trust yourself when everyone doubts you,
But understand their doubts all the same:
Be patient and don't be tired of waiting,
If you are lied about, don't cheapen yourself with lies,
If you are hated, don't give way to hating,
But learn and never kid yourself that you are wise;
Neither Triumph nor Disaster is what it seems
So treat those two impostors just the same;
Though you should dream, don't just live in dreams,
You should think but not make thoughts your only aim:
Keep calm when you hear the truth you've spoken
Distorted and used as never intended,
When you see everything you gave your life for broken,
Don't give up but set to work to see it mended;
Don't be afraid of risking all you own
On a dream that's close to your heart,
But when it doesn't come off, don't moan
Take what you have learned and then re-start:
For you can still force your heart and body and mind
To serve your purpose long after they seem gone,
Keep going even when there is nothing left to find,
Except your lasting dream which says you must hold on;
When you talk with crowds, keep your integrity,
When in lofty circles don't lose that common touch
Neither be hurt by love nor enmity
Everyone should count with you, but none too much:
Try to watch each precious minute
And fill your life beneath this sun
Not with haste, for that's not worth it,
But joyous wonder, hope and fun.