Thoughts of Mind and Heart

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

- Rudyard Kipling

We have forgotten something very fundamental in our lives – that success is not a given and failure is a necessity to achievement.
Let me explain:
I play piano. I have done so for the past 40 years. I entertain no illusions as to my abilities, the next Bach I am not. With enough practice I can manage most intermediate pieces and I am satisfied with my achievement, considering that the last piano lesson I had was in 1990. Recently, a friend asked me why I bother playing – I am obviously not going to be playing for an audience nor is going to be a way for me to make money – she simply did not see the point of putting in the effort for something that will not “bring me anything.” Now, I usually have a rather acid tongue in the face of stupidity but seeing as this is a friend and thus some silliness requires tolerance, I chose to hold my peace. After all, I reasoned, she makes a spectacle of herself on Instagram, something which I absolutely do not understand, so perhaps her opinion of my musical abilities is justified. Her expectations are different to mine. She believes that with enough pictures in odd poses showing off a handbag or something else so clever, she will eventually reach the astonishing heights of influencing someone. How a handbag can influence anyone to do anything is beyond me but perhaps handbags have developed some mystical abilities in the past 20 years that I am wholly unaware of. It is a distinct possibility, that someone sees a picture of my friend with her pouting lips and unnaturally twisted hips, gripping a handbag on the edge of a cliff and they might just be influenced to jump. Hopefully for joy and not over the next precipice.
Her expectation is to earn a living from this. My expectation from piano playing is to make myself happy. Her happiness is when her wallet is full of money from people who like handbags and want her to pose with theirs, whereas, if someone tried to pay me playing I would be hopelessly embarrassed. It does not make me better than her – it is just that it never occurred to me that my piano playing could be anything else by for my own enjoyment. It is not You Tube worthy nor Spotify willing or Instagram – able. And my question is, why does it have to be?

Recently I had the opportunity to see a real live Influencer. She was twenty give or take a few years in any direction, and for some reason she felt compelled to wear her bikini to the airport, the lower part of which conveniently ensured her Brazilian would not catch a cold. However, it did not have the same consideration for her rather prominent rear. On top she at least had on a diaphanous but rather short kaftan and she had thought that footwear was appropriate. In one hand she gripped a shockingly pink and gold telephone, her fingers suitably attired in talons. Her bronzed skin had not seen much of the sun, seeing as we have had a very wet summer. Over one shoulder was a monstrous handbag which occasionally let out a bark – which I can only presume was from a very small dog or a very strange anti-theft device.
The ground personnel was trying to tell the blonded nymph that they really would like her to cover her bottom. She flicked her hair like an old pro, pushed out her lips into their best impression of a puffer fish and snapped a picture of herself, the staff grimacing in the background. “I am in Influencer!” shrieked the unnatural creation, ” Everyone will fly with you!”
Seeing as the flight was booked out with enough desperate people willing to pay horrendous prices for few days away, it didn’t seem to be the airline’s biggest problem. The Creation continued to shriek in a rather small vocabulary, and swivel on her heels, trying her best to take pictures of her bottom. while the staff tried to convince her that somewhere in her luggage there must be wrap? Or a skirt? Shorts? A towel? How about just a bigger bikini? The Creation simply could not understand why she wasn’t influencing them. Behind her, other want to be passengers started taking pictures and even filming the swirly, screechy Creation, a fact which was not lost on her.
Finally from somewhere at the back of the line, a gruff, and obviously not very influenced man, shouted,
“What do you mean ,you have INFLUENZA? Are you trying to kill us all?”
I don’t know what happened with the Creation – but I will never forget the desperate look in the eyes of the staff as they surveyed the chaos she had unleashed, yapping bag, pin point heels, flapping hair, pictures and all.
Unfortunately, I am not beyond laughing at these kinds of scenarios. I know I should be understanding and gravely try to fathom her need to make a sorry spectacle of herself, I should shake my head in sorrow at her dreadful plight, maybe I should have thrown things at the perfectly evil staff who wanted her to get dressed. IT IS HER RIGHT, isn’t it, to parade around naked in public places, splatter her uncovered bottom on every plane seat from here to Timbuktu and furthermore, she is an influencer – obviously fame, no matter how shallow and meaningless, must be bowed down to?
This is not a rant against the young- we have all done silly, ridiculous things when we were young and I defy anyone to prove me wrong. However, I just wonder how it is possible that a generation is growing up thinking this is how you make a living? Where is the merit, or the sense of achievement at a job well done?
I never set out to become a piano virtuoso – if I had, I would have spent the last 40 years of my life in the depths of depression. I also accepted when my last teacher said he hoped he had taught me enough so I can enjoy music for the simple pleasure of playing. He did not tell me I was destined for greatness – I have a moderate talent and in his estimation he saw there was no point setting me on a road which would have led to disappointment.
We live in a world where everyone is supposed to get a prize, just because they were there – no one is meant to better than anyone else. Then, I have to ask myself, what is the point of being alive? What should I strive for if the next person will be as praised as I will even if they put in less effort than me? What does achievement matter if everyone gets gold?
With such unnatural expectations, why are we then surprised when people hop up and down in screaming rages, when they have never been given the tools to understand their own limitations? Just because you aren’t good at something does not mean you are not good anything? I would make a terrible engineer but in the same breath, I am decent admin – if I wanted to be an engineer I would then have to pity the hapless people who would live in my houses or fly in my planes seeing as math means as much to me as coal to a starfish.
We are not all destined for greatness nor do we have to be grandiose to prove we have a good life. And who decides if our life is good? If you managed to get through it all without cheating, stealing and murdering anyone, I would say you have had a pretty good life. If you have found a way to be kind with your heart and not just with your wallet, have treated those around you with decency and kept a modicum of honesty to yourself and to others, have you not had a good life? There is nothing wrong with growing tomatoes for a living provided you like them.
I don’t know if the Creation at the airport is happy. Probably in some shallow, insipid way, she is. She is a reflection of what so many now define as fine and wonderful while we laugh at her in our sleeves. Perhaps I should have shown her pathetic display a little more pity – but it would have been misunderstood. Everyone is responsible for their own actions – if you fall of a cliff, it makes little sense to blame the rocks. I pity what we have stooped so low to become for the sake of someone we don’t even know, liking us. A thousand people like pictures of her bottom but unfortunately, she probably thinks they actually like her.
The sadness of our world is the exultation of the pathetic and the vilification of the good. We give our money to Amazon who then uses it for 11 minutes in space, but we refuse to give our neighbour a sandwich. We happily throw money at silly games where we sit alone but we have forgotten how to play together. We have more labour saving devices but we constantly complain we have no time. We throw away our old people because seeing someone in all the endings of life just isn’t photo worthy. We let their knowledge die with them because we no longer have the patience to listen – and anyway, Google will tell us everything.
Until the world goes dark and you can’t Google “how to make a fire” so you don’t freeze to death.
There is no way out of this mess. We can’t turn back to where we went wrong and the only way to fix it is to live with deliberate honesty to oneself and those around you. Realise you don’t have to sell yourself for momentary attention, that fame and fortune might be nice but someone still has to cut the grass. Your soul deserves so much more than what you give it with empty promises. Be true to yourself and when you believe in something, then believe it with a conviction that comes from you and not from someone else. Life is not about winning – in the end, the prize is the same for all of us and there is no undo. Read the poem at the top now, and see now if it makes any sense to you.

Photo by Jou00e3o Cabral on

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