Tuesday, September 09, 2008

'My friends, I have wasted a day'.

Or, What Have You Done Today To Make You Feel Proud?
The quote in the title is from Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars, and is reputedly what the Emporer Titus said one day at a banquet when he realised that he had done nothing that day to help others or improve their lot. Had he ruled longer, he may well have gone down as one of the better Roman Emporers - however, his apparent generosity of spirit could well have buggered up Imperial finances and undone all the hard work of his father, Vespasian.
The alternative title is that of the song, and is one of those upbeat catchy things they do at sporting events, e.g the Olympic party in London, and an exhortation to positivity with a capital P. In fact, capital O-S-I-T-I-V-I-T-Y, as well. It's the kind of music that goes with videos of people smiling and laughing on sunny days, or waving their arms in sporting triumph, or quite possibly as the background music to an advert showing some bloke who has sucessfully managed to shave his face with some new multi-bladed razor without ripping through his jugular, and is now getting admiring looks from his significant other, before heading off in his private jet helicopter to the golf course.
On the whole, I prefer the melancholic air of Titus. How is it possible, each day and every day, to do something to make you (sic) feel proud? Make yourself feel good, yes, but proud? The problem with exhortations like this is that, while they sound like good ideas, they in fact set you up to fail. Imagine examining your day at the closing of it; You look at what you have done, and ask, 'what have I done to make me (sic) proud?'; What if you've done things that make you feel Okay, but not outright proud; Wouldn't you feel a bit of a failure? And imagine that day in, day out - you'd end up feeling like a total loser, decide there's no point, and probably rip through your jugular with your new multi-bladed razor.
We cannot possibly aspire to do uplifting things on such a regular basis - such demands finally lead us top failure. So how about a slightly different question - 'What is the difference between this morning when I woke, and this evening before I sleep?' If there is even just a slight difference - a new thing learned, a task completed, a fear faced - then that is good. If the answer to the question is truly 'nothing', then we can sigh like Titus, but then look ahead to ther next day, when new chances may arise.

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