Kierkegaard Talks about Love

Imagine two artists:

One travels the world over, searching for a human subject worthy of his skill as a painter of portraits. But so exacting are his standards and so fastidious his judgment that he has yet to discover a single person worthy of his efforts. Every potential subject is marred by some disqualifying flaw.

The second artist, on the other hand, has no special admiration for his own skill. Consequently, he never things to look beyond his immediate circle of neighbors for his subjects. Nevertheless, he has yet to find a face without something beautiful in it, something eminently worthy to be portrayed.

Wouldn’t this indicate that the second painter is the real artist? Yes–because this second one “brings a certain something” that enables him or her to find in others that which is worthy to paint. The other painter could not find anything worthy to paint anywhere in the world because he or she did not bring this “certain something.” 

So it is with love, says Kierkegaard. Those who think they can love only the people they prefer do not love at all. Love discovers truths about individuals–any individuals–that others cannot see (see Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love [New York: Harper and Row, 1962], 156-157).

[The above four paragraphs are slightly adapted from C. Terry Warner, Bonds That Make Us Free pages 306-307. C. Terry Warner also founded The Arbinger Institute, which wrote Leadership and Self Deception, The Anatomy of Peace, and The Outward Mindset.]

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A Brief Poem From a Japanese Teamaster Who Lived from 1158-1237

Fujiwara Iyetaka writes,

“To those who only pray for the cherries to bloom, 
How I wish to show the spring
That gleams from a patch of green
In the midst of the snow-covered mountain-village!”

In other words, while there are some who anticipate the coming of spring, Spring in its entirety is implicit in a tiny, seemingly insignificant “patch of green.”

Daisetz T. Suzuki comments,

“Here is just a feeble inception of life power as asserted in the form of a little green patch, but in it he who has an eye can readily discern the spring shooting out from underneath the forbidding snow. It may be said to be a mere suggestion that stirs his mind, but just the same it is life itself and not its feeble indication. To the artist, life is as much here as when the whole field is overlaid with verdue and flowers. One may call this the mystic sense of the artist” (Zen and Japanese Culture, 26).

A Young Man Desires to Learn the Art of Swordsmanship

Once upon a time there was a young man who desired to learn the art of the sword, so he journeyed to the mountain hut of a retired master and asked to be his disciple. The master agreed, and then put the young man to work splitting wood, cooking rice, drawing water from a nearby spring, and doing other chores to care for the house in general. There seemed to be no formal instruction in the art of swordsmanship, so after a while, the young man became frustrated. He did not come to this mountain hut be a slave to the master; he came to learn the art of swordsmanship. So he approached the master about the matter.

After that discussion, the young man still was asked to complete seemingly mundane tasks with no apparent instruction in the art of the sword, except that now he could not do any of his chores without fear–for when he would be cooking rice in the morning, all of a sudden the master would hit him in the back with a stick. Or when he would be sweeping the garden in the afternoon, he would suddenly  be struck from an unknown direction by the master. After a period of time time, the young man was sometimes able to dodge the blow, but he never knew where or when to expect it.

But when the young man saw the master cooking his own vegetables one day, he decided it was pay back time. The young man took a big stick, crept up behind the master who was stooping over the pot to stir the vegetables, and let the stick fall over the master’s head–but the master, just in time, had raised the lid of the pan just in time to block the young man’s blow. 

This act opened the young man’s mind to the secrets of the art, and he was filled with gratitude for the master’s kindness.

(Adapted from Daisetz T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture)

Two Scholars On Reading Well

What does it mean to read something well? What sources can you think of that discuss reading well?

One source from the Appendix in Wayne Booth’s Critical Understanding: The Powers and Limits of Pluralism. Booth was a scholar of literary criticism and rhetoric. The Appendix to this book is called “A Hippocratic Oath for the Pluralist,” and in it, Booth gives what he calls five “ordinances” for achieving good criticism, saying at the end that if we kept them, “we would experience a renewed sense that our critical sanity does not depend on ‘covering’ as many works as possible” (352). Here is what he says:

1. We shouldn’t publish anything about anything we’ve read all the way through at least once.
2. We’ll try to not publish anything about anything that we haven’t totally understood.
3. We’ll not believe other critics unless they convince us that they’ve abided by the first 2 rules.
4. We won’t take on a project that has us violate principles 1-3.
5. We won’t judge others’ “inevitable violations” of the first 4 principles worse than we judge our own.

Isn’t that interesting?

Another source on reading well comes from C.S. Lewis’ An Experiment in Criticism. Lewis was a medieval and renaissance scholar who became Christian apologist later in life. In Chapter 4 of An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis gives 5 characteristics of bad readers, but I’ll sum them up into 3 categories:

1. Bad readers only read narratives.
2-3. Bad readers have no ears and are wholly unconscious of style.
4-5. Bad readers enjoy narratives that are reduced to the minimum and are action-packed.

What do you think about these guidelines for reading well?
What sources have you found about good reading and bad reading? And what does it mean to read well?

Some Larger Way, Path, or Errand

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

“‘That sounds like a bit of old Bilbo’s rhyming,’ said Pippin.

. . .

“‘I don’t know,’ said Frodo. ‘It came to me then, as if I was making it up; but I may have heard it long ago. Certainly it reminds me very much of Bilbo in the last years, before he went away. He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further and to worse places?” He used to say that on the path outside the front door at Bag End, especially after he had been out for a long walk.'”

(The Lord of the Rings, one volume edition, p. 73-74)

The Gettysburg Address, by Abraham Lincoln

You’ve read it before. You may even have memorized it. But this speech is still relevant, and I believe it’s a speech worth pondering.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 Abraham Lincoln
 November 19, 1863

A Story about Two Small Boys, and a Small Accident,” by David A. Bednar

“One evening,” David A. Bednar writes, “Susan and I stood near a window in our home and watched two of our little boys playing outside. During the course of their adventures, the younger of the two boys was injured slightly in a small accident. We quickly recognized that he was not seriously hurt, and we decided not to provide immediate assistance. We wanted to observe and see if any of our family discussions about brotherly kindness had sunk in. What happened next was both interesting and instructive.

“The older brother consoled and carefully helped the younger brother back into the house. Susan and I had positioned ourselves near the kitchen so we could see what next took place, and we were prepared to intervene immediately if additional bodily harm seemed likely or a serious accident was imminent.
“The older brother dragged a chair to the kitchen sink. He climbed up on the chair, assisted his brother onto the chair, turned on the water, and proceeded to pour a large quantity of dishwashing soap onto the scratched arm of his little brother. He did his best to gently wash away the dirt. The reaction of the little brother to this procedure can only be described accurately using language from the holy scriptures: “And they shall have cause to howl, and weep, and wail, and gnash their teeth” (Mosiah 16:2). And did that little boy howl!

“After the scrubbing was finished, the arm was carefully dried with a towel. Eventually the screaming stopped. The older brother next climbed up onto the kitchen counter, opened a cabinet, and found a new tube of medicated ointment. Though the scratches on his little brother were not large or extensive, the older brother applied almost all of the ointment in the tube to the entire injured arm. The screaming did not resume, as the little brother clearly liked the soothing effect of the ointment much more than he appreciated the cleansing effect of the dishwashing soap.

“The older brother returned again to the cabinet in which he had found the ointment and located a new box of sterile bandages. He then unwrapped and put bandages all up and down his brother’s arm—from the wrist to the elbow. With the emergency resolved, and with soap bubbles, ointment, and wrappers all over the kitchen, the two little boys hopped down from the chair with bright smiles and happy faces.
“What happened next is most important. The injured brother gathered up the remaining bandages and the almost empty tube of ointment, and he went back outside. He quickly sought out his friends and began to put ointment and bandages on their arms. Susan and I both were struck by the sincerity, enthusiasm, and rapidity of his response.
“Why did that little boy do what he did? Please note that he immediately and intuitively wanted to give to his friends the very thing that had helped him when he was hurt. That little boy did not have to be urged, challenged, prompted, or goaded to act. His desire to share was the natural consequence of a most helpful and beneficial personal experience.”

From “Come and See,” Ensign, November 2014, 108.

A Short Story from a Book about Technology

The book is called User-Centered Technology: A Rhetorical Theory for Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts, but don’t let the title turn you off–it’s a pretty good book. But while theory books seldom have short stories in them, here is one of the ones in this book, written in first-person by the author, Robert R. Johnson:

“I don’t think that I could have been much more than ten or eleven years old, but the memory is nevertheless pungently clear. I was standing on the corner of Fifth and Broadway in Gary, Indiana (the town where I was ‘born and bred’ as they say), waiting for my father to come out of the building where he had an office. As I waited, I watched a man dressed in a doorman’s uniform step from the front door of the First National Bank with a large push broom in his hand. Once out on the sidewalk, he began sweeping and continue to do so until he had whisked a significant amount of white-gray, dusty material out to the curb. He then pushed the dusty residue down the length of the sidewalk, off the curb, into the street, and finally into a storm-sewer grate where it fell quickly out of sight. The doorman returned to the main entrance of the bank, and with the broom still in his hand, held the door for a customer who stepped out onto the temporarily clean sidewalk.

“Not long after the workman was done sweeping, my father appeared and we began walking to our car. On the way, I asked my father, ‘Why was that old man sweeping the sidewalk in front of the bank?’ ‘He does it to keep people from tracking the dirt into the bank,’ my father replied. ‘It helps to keep the carpets in the bank from getting dirty so fast.’ Still not completely satisfied with the answer, I continued, ‘Why does the bank sidewalk get dirty so fast?’ To answer this question, my father stopped, turned, and pointed his finger toward the north–directly at the main ‘Works’ of U.S. Steel that lay a scant five blocks away. ‘You see the smoke coming from the “Works?” [sic] There’s a lot of dust and dirt in that smoke, and it falls like rain on the downtown sidewalks every day and night. It’s especially thick when water is dumped on the hot steel after it comes out of the blast furnaces. The man at the bank is kept pretty busy keeping that dust out of the bank lobby.’

“Just then, I saw a large white-gray cloud appear over the ‘Works,’ and it was followed by a muffled roar. ‘There . . . there it is now. They’re pouring the water on the hot steel–thousands of gallons of it. There will be plenty more dust for him to sweep soon enough,’ he said as we turned back in the direction of the car. As we continued down the sidewalk, I noticed that the sky was changing color, to a sort of white-gray.”

An Imaginary Conversation with Someone from an Earlier Era and a Journey Through a Cave

“Suppose you were able to travel back in time and have a conversation with people who lived a thousand or even a hundred years ago. Imagine trying to describe to them some of the modern technologies that you and I take for granted today. For example, what might these people think of us if we told them stories of jumbo jets, microwave ovens, handheld devices that contain vast digital libraries, and videos of our grandchildren that we instantly share with millions of people around the world?

“Some might believe us. Most would ridicule, oppose, or perhaps even seek to silence or harm us. Some might attempt to apply logic, reason, and facts as they know them to show that we are misguided, foolish, or even dangerous. They might condemn us for attempting to mislead others.

“But of course, these people would be completely mistaken. They might be well-meaning and sincere. They might feel absolutely positive of their opinion. But they simply would not be able to see clearly because they had not yet received the more complete light of truth.”

From Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth,” Ensign, November 2014, 20. See this link for a video clip of the entire address.

Whenever we teach someone to do something new, we assume a similar perspective–we assume that we see more than our students. Say we are teaching students how to write. We see something our students can do to improve, so we tell them about it. They may become frustrated and angry. It is never easy to be asked to change. But if we are going to help our students become better writers, then we must point out what they can do differently. In short, we assume that we see more than they do.

It is like this classic story that you’ve all heard or read at some time or another. Two people are discussing education, and one says to the other:

“Next, I said, compare the effect of education and of the lack of it on our nature to an experience like this: Imagine human beings living in an underground, cavelike dwelling, with an entrance a long way up, which is both open to the light and as wide as the cave itself. They’ve been there since childhood, fixed in the same place, with their necks and legs fettered, able to see only in front of them, because their bonds prevent them from turning their heads around. Light is provided by a fire burning far above and behind them. Also behind them, but on higher ground, there is a path stretching between them and the fire. Imagine that along this path a low wall has been built, like the screen in front of puppeteers above which they show their puppets.”

“I’m imagining it.”

“Then also imagine that there are people along the wall, carrying all kinds of artifacts that project above it–statues of people and other animals, made out of stone, wood, and every material. And, as you’d expect, some of the carriers are talking, and some are silent.”

“It’s a strange image you’re describing, and strange prisoners.”

“They’re like us. Do you suppose, first of all, that these prisoners see anything of themselves and one another besides the shadows that the fire casts on the wall in front of them?”

“How could they, if they have to keep their heads motionless throughout life?”

“What about the things being carried along the wall? Isn’t the same true of them?”

“Of course.”

“And if they could talk to one another, don’t you think they’d suppose that the names they used applied to the things they see passing before them?”

“They’d have to.”

“And what if their prison also had an echo from the wall facing them? Don’t you think they’d believe that the shadows passing in front of them were talking whenever one of the carriers passing along the wall was doing so?”

“I certainly do.”

“Then the prisoners would in every way believe that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of those artifacts.”

“They must surely believe that.”

“Consider, then, what being released from their bonds and cured of their ignorance would naturally be like, if something like this came to pass. When one of them was freed and suddenly compelled to stand up, turn his head, walk, and look up toward the light, he’d be pained and dazzled and unable to see the things whose shadows he’d seen before. What do you think he’d say, if we told him that what he’d seen before was inconsequential, but that now–because he is a bit closer to the things that are and is turned towards things that are more–he sees more correctly? Or, to put it another way, if we pointed to each of the things passing by, asked him what each of them is, and compelled him to answer, don’t you think he’d be at a loss and that he’d believe that the things he saw earlier were truer than the ones he was now being shown?”

“Much truer.”

“And if someone compelled him to look at the light itself, wouldn’t his eyes hurt, and wouldn’t he turn around and flee towards the things he’s able to see, believing that they’re really clearer than the one’s he’s being shown?”

“He would.”

“And if someone dragged him away from there by force, up the rough, steep path, and didn’t let him go until he had dragged him into the sunlight, wouldn’t he be pained and irritated at being treated that way? And when he came into the light, with the sun filling his eyes, wouldn’t he be unable to see a single one of the things now said to be true?”

“He would be unable to see them, at least at first.”

“I suppose, then, that he’d need time to get adjusted before he could see things in the world above. At first, he’d see shadows most easily, then images of men and other things in water, then the things themselves. Of these, he’d be able to study the things in the sky and the sky itself more easily at night, looking at the light of the stars and the moon, than during the day, looking at the sun and the light of the sun.”

“Of course.”

“Finally, I suppose, he’d be able to see the sun, not images of it in water or some alien place, but the sun itself, in its own place, and be able to study it.”

“Necessarily so.”

“And at this point he would infer and conclude that the sun provides the seasons and the years, governs everything in the visible world, and is in some way the cause of all the things that he used to see.”

“It’s clear that would be his next step.”

“What about when he reminds himself of his first dwelling place, his fellow prisoners, and what passed for wisdom there? Don’t you think that he’d count himself happy for the change and pity the others?”


“And if there had been any honors, praises, or prizes among them for the one who was sharpest at identifying the shadows as they passed by and who best remembered which usually came earlier, which later, and which simultaneously, and who could thus best divine the future, do you think that our man would desire these rewards or envy those among the prisoners who were honored and held power? Instead, wouldn’t he feel, with Homer, that he’d much prefer to ‘work the earth as a serf to another, one without possessions,’ and go through any sufferings, rather than share their opinions and live as they do?”

“I suppose he would rather suffer anything than live like that.”

“Consider this too. If this man went down into the cave again and sat down in his same seat, wouldn’t his eyes–coming suddenly out of the sun like that–be filled with darkness?”

“They certainly would.”

“And before his eyes had recovered–and the adjustment would not be quick–while his vision was still dim, if he had to compete again with the perpetual prisoners in recognizing the shadows, wouldn’t he invite ridicule? Wouldn’t it be said of him that he’d returned from his upward journey with his eyesight ruined and that it isn’t worthwhile even to try to travel upward? . . . “

“They certainly would.”

That’s from C. D. C. Reeve’s revision of G. M. A. Grube’s translation of Book VII of Plato’s Republic, 514a-517a.

An Excerpt from Leticia Elizabeth Landon’s Poetry

This was written in or around 1830 by a poet named Leticia Elizabeth Landon. I had never heard of her before, but stumbled on this passage which made me think about Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”:

“Methinks we must have known some former state
More glorious than our present, and the heart
Is haunted with dim memories, shadows left
By past magnificence; and hence we pine
With vain aspirings, hopes that fill the eyes
With bitter tears for their own vanity.
Remembrance makes the poet; ’tis the past
Lingering within him, with a keener sense
Than is upon the thoughts of common men
Of what has been, that fills the actual world
With unreal likenesses of lovely shapes,
That were and are not; and the fairer they,
The more their contrast with existing things,
The more his power, the greater is his grief.
–Are we then fallen from some noble star,
Whose consciousness is as an unknown curse,
And we feel capable of happiness
Only to know it is not of our sphere?”

Leticia Elizabeth Landon, The Poetical Works, 118