Bend the world into a pretzel! | Sunday Observer

Bend the world into a pretzel!

20 September, 2020

I thought of writing a letter of advice to my grandson with the ink on his Master’s in Biotechnology still wet, just setting out ito down under with the hope of making his dreams true. I avail myself of this opportunity to give him half a dozen foolproof ideas for bending the world into a pretzel. Anyway, I must admit that I do not have any original thoughts of my own. But through the years I have encountered a few ideas of that kind – not platitudes, but ideas sharp enough to stick in my mind permanently. As he may be aware, certain concepts release energy and make problem-solving easier, provide shortcuts to worthwhile goals. However, no one handed them over to me in a neat package. They just came along my way through books, newspapers and magazines. If he compares my ideas with time-tested codes of conduct, they may appear like pretty small change. Yet, each quotation helped me to make my life happy and productive. So here they are. I hope that he will find them useful.

Shine up your neighbour’s halo

One day I attended a small church in my area. I heard the old preacher urging his flock to ‘stop worrying about their own halo and shine up their neighbours’. It struck me as just about the best 11-word formula for getting along with people. Now, I think that everyone, in some areas of life, has a halo that is worth watching for and acknowledging. I like it for the firm way it shifts the emphasis from self to interest and concern for others. It also reflects a deep psychological truth: People have a tendency to become what you expect them to be.

Keep one eye on the law of the echo

While chatting with some of my schoolmates, the subject of cheating at examinations came up. One of my friends readily admitted that he cheated all the time. He said he found it very easy and profitable. Suddenly, an old man standing nearby leaned forward and said, “I’d keep one eye on the law of echo if I were you.”

That was the first time we heard about the law of echo. Does it mean that whatever you do – honestly or dishonestly – ultimately come sback to you? Since the beginning of history, mankind has had the conviction that in the long run man does indeed reap what he sows.

Don’t wear your raincoat in the shower

While we were on a trip arranged by the school, we found ourselves in a forest area in Anuradhapura. The teacher in charge of the group gave us the freedom to go anywhere we liked provided we came back to the same spot. After wandering about in the forest, we returned to the place where the teacher was sitting. He asked us whether we had seen trees, plants, birds, monkeys and wild flowers. Then we realised that we had not paid any attention to them as we were chatting to each other all the time. The teacher gave us a piece of his mind: “Creation is all around you. Don’t be a buttoned-up person! Stop wearing your raincoat in the shower!” Who would stand in a shower bath with a raincoat buttoned up to his chin? It was a memorable exhortation to heightened awareness.

Later in life, I learned that the best way to discard the raincoat is to expose yourself to new experiences. The routine dulls the eye and deadens the ear; novelty sharpens both. So,if you want a heightened sense of fun or excitement, of expectancy in your life, don’t be a buttoned-up person. Get rid of that raincoat and let creation in!

Augustine of Hippo strongly disliked all uncharitable talk. He put up the following verse on the wall of the room where guests were entertained:

Slanderer, beware,

This is no place for thee;

Here nought shall reign

But truth and charity.

But one day the guests forgot the warning and began to talk unkindly of an absent person. “My friends,” St Augustine said, “You must either cease to speak on such a subject or it will be necessary for me to have that verse blotted out.” They never again dared to indulge in unkind talk in the house of St Augustine.

John Masefield had a hard time getting into print. He tells of his early days: “I was only 17 or 18. I had quit my life as a seaman and was working in a carpet factory in Yonkers, New York, while trying to learn how to write. Having just read Keats and Shelley for the first time, I was on fire to be a poet, but the new task I had set myself was far more difficult than climbing masts or painting decks. I had almost despaired when I came upon this sentiment:

Sitting still and wishing

Makes no person great.

The good Lord sends the fishing,

But you must dig the bait.

This easily remembered stanza somehow gave me the courage I needed to go on. I dug baits for months and finally caught a publisher who accepted my first poem.”

Read poetry and listen to music

I know that you are not into poetry and music as you have studied science subjects. If you listen to Charles Darwin, you will realise the value of poetry and music. Darwin said, “If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once a week; for perhaps that part of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

All these maxims and anecdotes drive me to the same goal – a stronger participation, a deeper involvement in life. This does not come naturally. Time is the raw material. What we do with it is up to us.

Tragedy in life is not what we suffer, but what we miss. Keep that in mind.

[email protected]