There is a generosity in advice. Especially when it is dispensed by someone we know has nothing to gain through the giving and who gives without expecting gain. We are unlikely to take it (unless we’re talking with a financial or medical expert – but even then …), we’re often irritated by it and sometimes we are incensed because it hooks an insecurity that’s whimpering down in the shadows of our ego. So we beat down on the advisor.
Giving advice to people in the throes of passion is especially pointless. No one will walk away from something they are interpreting as love until it has wacked them around the head a good few times.
I am not a religious soul. I appreciate faith and understand the need to belong, to follow and to be connected that organized religion supplies. Even though it harnesses something pure and manages to turn it into a weapon. I see the importance of hope in my country, every day. And I believe faith and hope are really the same thing – an essential hedge against fear. With God as the cover story.
Outside of that; I am a moral sort. I don’t steal or kill or covet or have sex with other people’s partners. I lie very seldom. And I have no interest in bowing down to any graven image. So I think I have the basics covered. The original ’10 commandments’ were a guide to living equably in the desert in tough times. Where eying the neighbour’s cow could lose you that eye. Framing them as a message from a higher power than man gave them credibility – and later allowed our modern, monetized, politicised religion to slouch off to Bethlehem to be born.
Never held with it. But, one lucky day – when I needed a road map, I found wisdom on a greeting card in Barnes & Nobles. No carved concrete blocks. Or burning bush. Just smart words in black and white typewriter font and a cellophane envelope.
Walt Whitman wrote Leaves of Grass in 1855. It’s a long read – and one that broke the mold in America for its style and the subject matter. Walt wrote about democracy, nature, love and friendship. Sang the praises of the body (electric) and soul and found beauty and reassurance in death.
All of which dismayed the locals. Who found his “openness regarding sex, his self-presentation as a rough working man, and his stylistic innovations” unnerving. When Whitman self-published the piece, he was fired from his job with the Department of the Interior (ever one to embrace truth – the American Government). And, despite respected champions like Thomas Emerson and Henry Thoreau, Whitman was never recognized as his country’s Homer, Dante or Shakespeare. But he should have been. 1000 people showed up for his funeral. Because what he said resonated. Then and now.
I like that he wrote this part in an almost biblical style. So I have presented it in the group of 10 to mimic the original – he did not number. These words have been ‘mine’ for a decade. Thanks Walt.
“This is what you shall do:
1. Love the earth and sun and the animals
2. despise riches
3. give alms to every one that asks
4. stand up for the stupid and crazy
5. devote your income and labor to others
6. hate tyrants
7. argue not concerning God
8. have patience and indulgence toward the people
9. take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men
10. go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families
Read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…”
(Expert from “Leaves of Grass”. Image of Walt Whitman in the public domain, image of beach and small things enjoying life copyright campari&sofa, thanks ever to William Butler Yeats for The Second Coming.)