“As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons”.
Being on good terms with someone is at least to agree on something, to uphold a common ideal or perhaps to work for a common good. Yet although these realities are assumed from a civilized society, the diversity and divergence of individuals present this proposal as a challenging feat. We do have an opinion. We want others to know we have an opinion. And more than just wanting others to know we have an opinion, we also desire that someone will agree with what we think. Then the worse comes in when we blur the distinctions between what we think and what truly is. When we believe that our opinion is a fact then we feel hurt when someone goes against it. It. For others, there is this misconception that being assertive is merely being able to say “I don’t think so” to anyone without verifying whether the statement of rebuttal was an observation, an opinion, or a fact. Throw in improper rhetorics, wrong semantics, and misperceived messages…then we doubt as to whether “being on good terms with all persons” is indeed possible or is it a mere thought void of any factual possibility for completion.
“As far as possible, without surrender….”
It provides a space, a gap, a leeway, without the pressures of a mandate such as the “Do’s or “Don’ts”; only if it is possible, without quitting or giving up the attempt to be on good terms. The implication is inconclusive: as far as you can, in as much as you can, in the most possible way, be on good terms, which then leads us back to the original premise of being at peace.
Human relationships and interactions are a crazy affair. There are times when the mere presence of someone is enough to drive us berserk, even when that someone is totally quiet or standing still. We have learned to dislike people with a penchant to keep grudges to the point of being vexed without a valid reason or irate without knowing why. The nuances of human behavior are such that being on good terms with people, whether they deserve it or not, becomes the better option if not the only option.
There is a common notion that politicians are adept at being on good terms with most people. We have this perception that the art of politics is being able to be likeable despite the presence of disagreements, in spite of divergent passions, and in the midst of conflicting interests. It is probably because of this notion that politicians are perceived as verbal experts, skilled in not telling the truth without lying, and adept at concealing facts through proper disclosure. If these were true, then it would never be easy to determine whether the promises delivered during political campaigns are mere ploys to entice and convince or a mere trait of what that politician stands for. The ethical and legal ramifications are a different story.
“Speak your truth, quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.”
How do you speak quietly? The response is a cliché: actions speak louder than words and actions are quiet messages that convey the truth we project in the clearest possible manner. In order to be an effective speaker, we first need to be an efficient doer. And for us to be credible with what we say, there must be a proof more visible and convincing than what we teach, speak or preach. And we should also listen, to anyone who would like to talk, in the same way that we were given the chance to spill our beans. Even the dull and the ignorant? Well, if it is true that beauty is in the eyes of a beholder, then speech must be only within the ears of a listener; for listening transcends the sounds and noises of a person who talks; it also absorbs the message of a silence from lips that do not move, and hears the motions of a life that speaks the music of silence, the message of the unheard. Listening beyond what our ears can receive is no longer a metaphor for it is true that we also have to listen with our eyes and with our hearts. When these faculties are optimized, the “dull and the ignorant” will be as eloquent as the politician or the preacher by the pulpit.
In the order of existence, listening precedes speaking. From the angles of an ego, speaking takes priority over listening. Yet, from the grounds of being on good terms, the order of their existence is overshadowed by a desire to have an existence for order. It really does not matter any longer as to which of the two comes first as long as people are respected and understanding precedes either speaking or listening.
Listen to others. A good listener is at a higher pedestal than an eloquent speaker. A listener receives. A speaker gives. We cannot give what we do not have. And we cannot have what we don’t receive. When we speak our truth, we run the risk of declaring atrocities, divulging errors, expressing fallacies, and uttering throngs of nonsensical stupidity. It is not easy to speak. Yet, speaking our truth is not restricted to the utterance of language. It is more defined as the language of a speech before it gained sound. To speak our truth is to live our truth, to cherish the values that we uphold, to extend our beliefs without the fear of rejection. To speak our truth is to take the risk of whatever aftermath there may be and to have the courage to amend our errors and defend our principles.
When in this aspect we speak our truth. And when through this speech we listen to others, then the possibility of being on good terms ceases impossibility.
The first three sentences of “Desiderata” establishes certain guidelines on human relationships with key words focused on “go”, “be”, “speak” and “listen”. With those words, the poem has somewhat drafted the basic guidelines of human cohabitation, the core of social media, the essence of interaction. And for this reason, “Desiderata” endured the unpredictable vicissitudes of evolution and the whimsical waves of human development.
There is no way for earth to sustain human life if those who live it do not sustain the harmony of human interaction or maintain the symphony of a social structure. For every second that pass, we are subtly subjected to the violent gyrations of inevitable changes, the eventual consumption of everything we own, and the fatal oddities of pain and death. But if we can go placidly, be on good terms, speak our truth, and listen to others, we will have half of our work done without the extra help of lawyers, politicians or preachers.
For fun, when you try to listen to others, the next time you go to a restaurant, be like a sponge and observe what people are doing around you. No need to eaves drop. They will disclose their personal details. They will argue. They will flirt. They will insult. Go placidly and listen. They too have their story. Then, when you leave, speak your truth quietly and clearly. Be at peace.