Taming The Soul’s Turbulence

In our lives we often encounter people whose behavior seems to make no rational sense.  I am referring to people who do things that seem to be against their own self-interest:  those who say one thing, but do something else.  We ourselves can fall into this trap on occasion.  It is almost as if there exists some morbid consciousness in all of us, a voice calling out for us to exactly what we should not do.

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Be A Horseman, Not A Rider

Philo of Alexandria, in his essay on agriculture (De Agricultura), points out that there is a difference between an ordinary tiller of the ground, and an actual farmer; and that there is also a clear difference between a shepherd and someone who just tends to sheep.  In the same way, he tells us, there is a great difference between a rider of a horse and a true horseman.

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On Hospitality

In taking the measure of a man’s cultural refinement, we must examine the degree to which he is practiced in the art of hospitality.  And when I say art, I mean this in a literal sense.  Arts are not inborn; they must be studied and honed with constant use.  A culture that teaches its members how to treat guests is a confident one; it is a culture that has, to some degree at least, liberated itself from the oppressions of acquisitiveness and greed, and has embraced some aspects of the communitarian ethic.  It is also a culture that understands the value of reciprocity:  the idea that a good turn done for one today, may mean a good turn done for oneself tomorrow.

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The State Of Common Life

In 1773 Samuel Johnson and his friend James Boswell made a journey through some of the more remote parts of Scotland.  Each of them wrote his own account of the journey, and I am currently absorbed in reading Johnson’s impressions in his Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland.  As always, he stimulates and fascinates:  his eye for detail is superb, and like the best of writers he combines wit, dry observation, and philosophic pronouncements.

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The Moderation And Control Of Anger

Anger is an insidious thing.  It can twine and wind its way around the soul, like ivy over some physical impediment, and slowly throttle our more beneficent instincts.  This creeping control does not happen all at once; it happens gradually, imperceptibly, one gradus at a time.  When speaking to someone on the phone, I often find my voice gradually rising with a surplus of emotion.  You can barely notice it happening, but it happens still.  Anger then finds a ready opportunity to intrude itself.  Anger is also deceptive:  it makes us believe we are taking action to solve some problem, when in fact we are doing nothing to solve the problem.  Anger is a liar.  He is a deceiver.

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The Wisdom And Generosity Of Yahya Ibn Khalid

Yahya Ibn Khalid (يحيى بن خالد‎) was an influential figure during the tenure of Abbasid caliph Harun Al-Rashid.  We do not know the precise date of his birth, but he was the son of Khalid Ibn Barmak, a member of the powerful Persian family known as the Barmakids.  The third Abbasid caliph, Al-Mahdi, tasked Yahya Ibn Khalid around 778 A.D. with the education of his son Harun.  Yahya must have perceived the seeds of greatness in the young Harun, for he tried to convince the fourth Abbasid caliph Al-Hadi to elevate Harun to a high position of leadership.  This was a mistake.  Al-Hadi had his own son in mind for the position, and so tossed Yahya into prison; but Fate would eventually smile on Yahya.

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