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You sometimes wonder how much you owe your ancestors, how much of their DNA is still there having it’s influence on your own individual nature.
My wife’s family were notables in the church and the law. One of her remarkable ancestors who, after being one the first women to go to Cambridge, went onto to form a religious order devoted to women’s education, founding schools in England and India, including the one above. So my wife should be confident in her birthright.
My family were not quite so notable, although they had their religious connections, some of them going into the church - not my father I might add - nor did he take after his grandfather, the founder a temperance league. My great grandfather was quite evidently a man of stubborn principle. As part of his campaign against the breweries, he and his followers lay siege to pubs. That was until the breweries took him to court, but even that didn’t stop him. He fought his case right through to the House of Lords. Lost his case and lost all his money in the process. On the other side of the family, my great grandfather was a bare fist fighter. Quite a difference, but I suppose the two of them had something in common - both fighters - although not altogether sharing the same set of principles.
I like to think I’m a more gentle soul, but I suppose a bit of their stubborn determination still lingers. One thing that classical philosophy suggests that regardless of all our individual features and tendencies something else is lying beneath it all, our true legacy. We could follow the advice that Marcus Aurelius offers himself, do a bit of divining: Dig within. Within is the wellspring of the Good; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig.
Very best wishes, William
The fundamental nature of all emotions is indicated in the very word itself. They move. They are in motion, and some of those emotions we entertain can be extremely violent. Some of them are unrelenting, holding us in their grip for years. In some cultures they are handed down from generation to generation. They can become a legacy of hate.
Fortunately for most of us this won’t be our legacy, but if any of us are in any doubt about the power of negative emotion even on the most mild mind, succumb to it. Then observe the effect not only on those around us but also on ourselves. It exhausts us, or it burns us up, or it gnaws away at us. What it doesn’t do is to nourish us. It doesn’t grant happiness or freedom or understanding.
If our intent is to develop as human beings we can’t afford to give way to negative emotion, and the best way to overcome negative emotion is to develop the capacity to love. One of love’s most noticeable features is the power of forgiveness, both for those who might have been the cause of our negative feelings and ourselves in giving way to them. Nothing is more damaging than self recrimination and criticism. Nothing discourages our development more than belittling ourselves. Therefore, self forgiveness is crucial.
All our desires emerge from the source of love, for in pursuing our desires we are pursuing our happiness, and the wise constantly repeat that the source of our happiness is love. If allowed to function naturally, this process will work for our evolution as human beings, but lacking discrimination, it may serve a more destructive purpose. How we seek our happiness is dependent on our level of understanding. The greater our understanding, the clearer will be our appreciation of those factors in our lives which will grant lasting happiness. If we follow the principle of love, then there must be growth, but if we serve anything but, there must be decay. There are no half measures in this. There must be either expansion or contraction. In nature nothing remains the same. Seek therefore the constant that lies behind this constant change of emotion.
Love is a constant and the more there is access to it, the more the chance there is of human development, for it is love which makes humanity humane. Love grants true appreciation and satisfaction. Love is the most fundamental of all human legacies.
Consider yourself and your own development as a human being. When in your life did you gain more happiness and understanding? What were you in touch with that made all the difference? Think of those around you, the people you know. Think of those whose judgement you value. Think of those in whom you would be happy to confide, confident that they would listen with understanding and sympathy. What do these people possess? The capacity to love.
Having identified that ingredient, adopt it yourself, and then return to it over and over again, as many times as you can remember. Make that your source of action.
Don’t be swayed by passing passions, but rest instead in the most profound of all emotions: that looks on tempests and is never shaken, the principle of love.