“Desiderata”: Contemporary Takes, Piece by Piece

If you could see my sturdy but worn copy of Max Ehrmann‘s 1927 prose poem “Desiderata,” the one that hung on my wall for eons after discovering it in my youth, you’d get a strong sense of how often it moved with me to various residences, providing meaningful inspiration.

As I reread it now, it still seems a fitting source of wisdom for a budding social worker/therapist—or for anyone at all at any stage of life.

In Latin, “Desiderata” means “desired things.” Here it is, reprinted in its entirety:

DESIDERATA

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

In this and the next couple posts I want to look at this piece by piece, adding other relevant thoughts, quotes, and video clips newer to me than “Desiderata.”

I. Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

“Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

I’m sure humorist Will Rogers (1879-1935) didn’t mean in therapy.

II. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.

Professor Katie A. Siek offers a test that determines your particular social style. Per the test, those main types are as follows:

  1. Analytical–Low Responsiveness, Low Assertiveness
  2. Drivers–Low responsiveness, High assertiveness
  3. Amiables–High Responsiveness, Low Assertiveness
  4. Expressives–High Responsiveness, High Assertiveness

III. Speak your truth quietly and clearly… 

Adrienne Rich: “Lying is done with words and also with silence.”

Walter Anderson: “Our lives improve only when we take chances and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.”

IV….and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

“A smart man can learn from smart men, but a wise man can learn from everyone”. (Unknown source)

V. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

Tomorrow, the middle part of “Desiderata“…

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