What is the worst evil in the world? Wouldn’t you agree that it is what prevents the achievement of everything that is good? And what prevents this achievement more than the weakness in a person’s very soul that leads this person along the path of mediocrity, or worse, criminality? Let’s take a look at this evil, first in the context of writing, then more generally in the context of living.
When I was a nineteen-year-old high school student and budding poet – two years after my diving accident – many factors adversely affected my creativity. My trips in a special bus to school and back home, my courses, and my assignments, though I was spared a lot of writing and was mostly tested orally, all this was time-consuming. More often than not, my obligation to study took priority over my desire to compose poetry.
To tell the truth, I had plenty of free time. That I spent much of it uncreatively showed evidence of frivolousness, laziness, and cowardliness. I usually preferred to take my mind off things, or to daydream, rather than to express myself through poems. The satisfaction I could derive from achieving this expression seldom induced me to try. The deterring elements were the difficulty of trying and the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of my efforts.
A poem – assuming one is concerned about writing beautifully – is indeed no cinch. It requires a poet who is talented, skilled, and determined. My poetic ability was fickle; my grammar and style were faulty; my will was faint. I lacked the courage of my creative desire. This lack was not absolute. Now and then, when I felt compellingly inspired, I resisted my temptation to trifle – which amounted to taking the easy way out – and endeavored to compose a poem. I had to repeat this endeavor, over and over, to grow more capable and confident, less discouraged by the challenge at hand.
I am afraid young individuals similar to the young man I was then are not a rarity. The prospect of success turns them on; effort and the risk of failure turn them off. The contradiction is apparent, and the result predictable: Since effort and the risk of failure are essential for success, the avoidance of them precludes this success. Of course everyone knows this. The trouble is that many refuse largely to accept it. This is proof that knowledge is powerless in itself; it needs a strong will to be effective.
Young individuals, who know the rules of success, can be failures inasmuch as they fail to accept these rules. Wisdom includes this acceptance (the exclusion of which is thus foolish). It must be distinguished from knowledge. Wise people are also brave people who put their knowledge into practice and become successful for that reason. The obvious holds good in every way: Life without courage is like a bird without wings; it cannot take off.
Why is it hard to want both the end and the means? Precisely because the means are hard, not to mention the fact that they are hazardous, you might answer. If you are right, then why do some actually thrive on this hardness and hazardousness? The key to this mystery is their attitude: They regard these opposing elements not only as obstacles but also as opportunities for merit and excitement. Just as they were young once, spoon-fed and sheltered from the evils of the world, they eventually outgrew their attachment to easiness and developed a taste for challenge. In conclusion, what characterizes them is their maturity, by contrast with the infantilism of others.
Between these two extremes there is a mediocre compromise, partly mature, partly infantile. It consists in taking charge of one’s life while taking the easy way out. Small principles, small realizations, far below one’s potential for greatness, they are poor excuses for wisdom and success. Potential, that is the operative word. There can be greatness in apparent smallness and smallness in apparent greatness; the truth resides in the great or small actualization of one’s potential, whatever it is.
How does one discover what it is? By making the effort to actualize it in the ever-renewed and multifaceted act of living. This entails that one push oneself hard, at the risk of going too far. Measure is an empty abstraction for anyone who has never exceeded it. Limits should be experienced, not invented. This experience demands a serious and courageous commitment to greatness. Steer clear of frivolousness, laziness, and cowardliness; do not fall prey to them as I did so many times. They are strong temptations that can assume the form of a cunning philosophy that is unique to losers. Beware of this snare. Life is a demanding character test; come death, you will have ample time to rest!
Nostalgic for the old days at the rehabilitation facility when I wrote anyhow about anything, I once conveniently believed in spontaneous writing as a guarantee of genuineness. Fortunately I was foolish yet not a complete fool. After some denial, which involved some nonsense in justification of my foolishness, I admitted sullenly that my sacrosanct pursuit of genuineness was in fact a vile indulgence in idiocy. There is nothing spontaneous about the intelligent conception and intelligible expression of one’s true self, which is everything but simple. It is a tissue of desires, feelings, ideas, and memories, caught in a whirl of interactions between the mind and the world. Either one goes to great lengths to elucidate and formulate the truth about oneself, and one hits the bull’s-eye, or one talks bullshit – please forgive my language.
Some people shine at off-the-cuff speeches, as though they were so brilliant they could avoid saying idiocies when forced to be spontaneous. Make no mistake; their brilliance is merely one side of the equation. They have spent years polishing their manner of thinking and speaking, while their knowledge waxed through learning. Their spontaneity is studied. It is a product of numerous rehearsals, like the performance of an actor. Nothing great ever comes easily to anyone, including those who are the most gifted among us. Superior luck is not human greatness, only a steppingstone toward it. The stone is given; the stepping is done by the sweat of one’s brow and is made of a million steps, uphill. To work one’s way up to greatness is comparable to conquering Mount Everest, the highest peak of the Himalayas. It is an outstanding achievement with a sense of pride to match.