233: The Choice

Ruskin, as I have often said in these posts, began each day with the question: “What can I do during this day that, using my powers to the best of my ability, will help those who come into contact with either my person or words, travel the path of their own lives more easily?” He was, he knew, fundamentally a teacher, and, knowing he had been gifted with a great facility for putting words together, he carefully considered what effect the letters he would write that day would have on those who did him the honor of reading his pages and paragraphs. Often in the position of instructing the young, he tried to alert them to the essential things they needed to hear and know. Today’s first brief quote is of that variety. Knowing from his own life experience that the choice he was going to write of was momentous, he said:

You must begin your Education with the distinct resolution to know what is True, and elect the straight and rough road to such knowledge. This Choice is offered to every youth and maid at some moment of their life– the choice between the easy, downward road, so broad we can dance down it in companies, and the steep and narrow way which we must enter alone. Then–and for many a day afterwards–you will need some form of persistent Opinion and Will [as you continue on this path]. But, day by day, the sense of the rightness of what you have done will gain on [those who select it.], not as a consequence of the effort, but as a gift granted in reward of it–and the sense of the eternal difference between right and wrong, between beautiful and unbeautiful things, will be confirmed in the heroic, and fulfilled in the industrious, soul.

Today’s second quote is one we have come across a number of times. I offer it again with the firm conviction that wonderful words, once read, reread, will become clearer in their meaning and more uplifting in their directives. It is one of my own personal favorites from the pantheon of all the wonderful passages that have flowed from the bounteous and humane mind of the subject of this blog.

This is the thing which I KNOW–and which, if you labor faithfully, you shall also KNOW: that in Reverence is the chief Joy and Power of life; Reverence for what is pure and bright in your own youth, for what is true and tried in the age of others; for all that is gracious among the living, great among the dead, and marvelous in the powers that cannot die.

“The powers that cannot die!”

And, in this phrase, we find another vital link to the eternal question of what it means to be a human being on this Earth. Ruskin wrote his words in the 1860s but, roughly a century later, in a very different context, his message was reprised in a slightly different way by another Great Soul, another who understood that, if one has been given a particular power and the opportunity to use it, one had the responsibility, as a human being, to use that power to move the world, however slightly, toward a better, happier, end. Here is that, also magnificent, rephrasing:

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgement. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: “What are You doing for others?”

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Until next time!

Please do continue well out there!

🙂

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1 Response to 233: The Choice

  1. Dear Jim, thank you for this, and these. Every now and then, nowadays, I feel ashamed at beginning to feel I’ve forgotten how to read Ruskin. And then I come across your blog!

    The difference between beautiful and unbeautiful – being confirmed in the heroic, and fulfilled in the industrious, soul… gracious among the living, great among the dead, and marvellous in the powers that cannot die. — I’ve read these a number of times now to really get them in.

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