STUFF WE ALREADY KNOW…
Woody Guthrie said, ‘Let me be the guy that told you something you already knew’. When I read that back in the early ‘60s, the statement intrigued me. I imagine that its resonance for me at that time derived almost entirely from its beguilingly zen-like qualities. And I’m sure that I took every opportunity to drop it into conversations, delivering it quietly with slow, meaningful nods and narrowed eyes. However, I certainly don’t remember its utterance ever getting me devoted acolytes or getting me laid. Because I hadn’t a clue what the man was on about.
Much later when encountering it again I realised that, in fact, I already knew what it meant and probably always had. Guthrie was telling us that the most effective messengers are those who cause the scales to fall from our eyes so that we might apprehend truths that have long been staring us in the face.
Five years ago I posted a list of contemporary aphorisms offering themselves up under the title: Sheldon Kopp's Eschatological Laundry List (learned on life's rocky road). In spite of Google’s best efforts then and now I can only identify Sheldon Kopp as the New York psychotherapist who wrote If You Meet The Buddha On the Road, Kill Him. Surprisingly, the Wikipedia entry is brief and there appear to be no fan sites. As for the aphorisms, for all their apparent individual triteness and Reader’s Digest-style homeliness, they have a powerful cumulative effect and they present a humanist take on the existential frame of reference with refreshing candour and wit. No pious poetry, philosophical abstraction or contemporary psychobabble is used; the statements are direct to the point of brusqueness. I’m profoundly suspicious of the notion of great truths via aphorism. But in our world of instant just-add-batteries information, they’re sometimes the only glimpse that millions will get of what lies between the covers of now untouched great works.
1. This is it!
2. There are no hidden meanings.
3. You can't get there from here, and besides there's no place else to go.
4. We are all already dying, and we will be dead for a long time.
5. Nothing lasts.
6. There is no way of getting all you want.
7. You can't have anything unless you let go of it.
8. You only get to keep what you give away.
9. There is no particular reason why you lost out on some things.
10. The world is not necessarily just. Being good often does not pay off and there is no compensation for misfortune.
11. You have a responsibility to do your best nonetheless.
12. It is a random universe to which we bring meaning.
13. You don't really control anything.
14. You can't make anyone love you.
15. No one is any stronger or any weaker than anyone else.
16. Everyone is, in his own way, vulnerable.
17. There are no great men.
18. If you have a hero, look again: you have diminished yourself in some way.
19. Everyone lies, cheats, pretends (yes, you too, and most certainly I myself).
20. All evil is potential vitality in need of transformation.
21. All of you is worth something, if you will only own it.
22. Progress is an illusion.
23. Evil can be displaced but never eradicated, as all solutions breed new problems.
24. Yet it is necessary to keep on struggling toward solution.
25. Childhood is a nightmare.
26. But it is so very hard to be an on-your-own, take-care-of -yourself-cause-there-is-no-one-else-to-do-it-for-you grown-up.
27. Each of us is ultimately alone.
28. The most important things, each man must do for himself.
29. Love is not enough, but it sure helps.
30. We have only ourselves, and one another. That may not be much, but that's all there is.
31. How strange, that so often, it all seems worth it.
32. We must live within the ambiguity of partial freedom, partial power, and partial knowledge.
33. All important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficient data.
34. Yet we are responsible for everything we do.
35. No excuses will be accepted.
36. You can run, but you can't hide.
37. It is most important to run out of scapegoats.
38. We must learn the power of living with our helplessness.
39. The only victory lies in surrender to oneself.
40. All of the significant battles are waged within the self.
41. You are free to do whatever you like. You need only to face the consequences.
42. What do you know . . . for sure . . . anyway?
43. Learn to forgive yourself, again and again and again and again...