Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The tragedy in Tucson -- another perspective

Here is a column by Dr. Scot McKnight that is well worth reading, as are the comments that follow it. Dr. McKnight is a professor at North Park University, a Christian institution of higher learning (I know some of my readers think that is an oxymoron) in Illinois.

I am reminded of a twist on an old saying: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, you obviously don’t understand the problem.” Dr. Scot McKnight both keeps his head and understands the problem.

The humorous twist is a distortion of the beginning of the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling. Here’s the original in its entirety:

by Rudyard Kipling

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 imposters 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 wornout 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 breath 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!

(End of poem)

In spite of the quaintness of this more-than-a-century-old poem and its unfortunate gender-specific ending, there’s something about that poem that speaks to our common human condition. It encourages us to have the kind of world in which I grew up, the kind that no longer seems to exist, the kind in which shootings like the one in Tucson, now all too common, didn’t happen because individuals were taught to live their lives with integrity. According to Wikipedia, the well-known Indian historian and writer Khushwant Singh has said that Kipling’s poem is “the essence of the message of The Gita in English.” The text to which Singh refers is the ancient Indian scripture, the Bhagavad Gita.

I’d be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that accused Tucson shooter Jared Loughner has never read much of anything worthwhile, let alone either the poems of Rudyard Kipling or the Bhagavad Gita.

Here’s an old, old joke, one that a man named Donald McGill put on a postcard long ago and sold over 6,000,000 copies:

Boy: “Do you like Kipling?”
Girl: “I don’t know, you naughty boy; I’ve never Kippled.”

I try to have a serious blog, really I do, but it seems it is not to be.


  1. lol
    You are so right.
    People do not read anymore and what they do read is mostly rubbish.
    Reading is important. It's important to feel the pages and to try to understand why a person sat down to write these thoughts down. It's important to learn from the past and these poems and stories tell people what historians don't.Also it gives you quiet personal time, just for you.
    Yup I love reading but now fear for libraries.Everything is going digital.

  2. Tiptoeing in, am I still allowed to comment? Kipling was also a world traveller but the point of my quotation from "Hamlet" at the head of my blog is to say that wisdom comes from within, not from without. There are many fools who have globetrotted and many wise human beings who have simply stayed put and observed and absorbed. In a sense, it doesn't matter how many boxes we tick on the chart of varied experiences, it's how we process our experiences that counts.

  3. Thanks for commenting, Lady's Life and Yorkshire Pudding (and of course you're allowed to comment, YP!).

    I'm trying to process this experience: I just noticed an odd phenomenon. As the number of followers of my blog increases (up by 3 this week), the number of commenters decreases (down to 2 on this post).

    You can't win. Why even try? Maybe I should move to British Columbia or Rapa Nui....

  4. I read your two previous posts yesterday, and wanted to comment, but when I was thinking about what to write, my phone rang and it was my sister telling me that her husband had been rushed off to hospital with a suspected heart-attack. So that is why I didn't comment on those posts. I do feel sort of guilty however. Especially after reading your remark about the number of comments. So I thought I'd either write a very long one...

  5. i din' think i was allowed to comment

  6. Note. Somehow a second comment from Carolina made it into my e-mail inbox but never made it into these comments. Here is the rest of what Carolina wrote:

    ...or just write two comments. Two comments, or actually one, but who's counting, it is. I didn't have an intelligent comment to the other posts anyway. I did enjoy reading them, but I don't know enough about both man to have an opinion. What I've read or seen about them in the news is what other people have decided to publish.

    I really enjoyed reading the poem in this post.

    Keep up the good work! There is too much seriousness going on in this world anyway. (Sorry for made-up words, weird hyphens and bad spelling. I'm a bit tired.)


  7. I have a little friend named Putzy;
    He is a very intelligent pup:
    He can comment on his hind legs
    If you hold the front ones up!

    I'm kidding! I'm kidding! Of course you are welcome to comment here, David, even if you are at times incomprehensible...

    Carolina in Nederland, thank you for boosting my comment count. Couldn't ask for a more loyal reader than you! Give my regards to Willem, Naloma, Evie, and hubs. (Note to others: Three of them are equine and only one is homo sapiens.)

  8. "It encourages us to have the kind of world in which I grew up, the kind that no longer seems to exist..."

    Yes, back when we were all kinder and gentler and renowned for our virtues. The writer must remember a day prior to when I was born, and prior to when this nation, at least, existed.