The Counter-Cultural Advice of the Desiderata


GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the 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 to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or 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 God to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

By Max Ehrmann © 1927
Original text with 1 edit

Why Counter Cultural?

We are only 4 years away from the 100th anniversary of the Desiderata. My how the values of our culture have changed in a 100 years.

when was the last time you were complimented for being placid?

While we are often told to speak up, speak out, call people out, and find our voice, seldom are we admonished to speak quietly and clearly. I find in many situations there is talking over, talking on and on, wit and sarcasm, loud and proud, but quiet? Being called quiet has been a put down for much of the last 30 years. “He needs to speak up more in class,” “she needs talk louder in groups, otherwise she just gets talked over,” and similar advice is considered right and fair. Being seen and heard, mastering verbal sparing and rhetoric — these have been highly valued qualities. Not being quiet. It wasn’t till Susan Cain’s book came out that we started to question the supremacy of highly loquacious influencers. In fact, the ability to speak in public is still considered the most important abilities for leaders. Moses would not make it these days.

I believe that the verbally aggressive and assertive DO win the attention and accolades and garner the best salaries. They are admired for their stamina, confidence, and tenacity. The admonition to listen to others and avoid loud and aggressive people seems, well, almost cowardly in the face of this reality.

But stoically standing against this is the Desiderata. I think this is because loud and aggressive goes hand in hand with entitlement, narcissism, and those who think “fierce” is a good thing. Even some of my favorite public figures like Dr. Jordan B. Peterson or Russell Brand can be a vexation to the soul when they get too loud, which they often do.

I like that the Desiderata is true to itself. Demonstrating what it advises. The tone is gentle and accepting, the cadence calm and unassuming. It is a pleasingly earnest and honest voice in a flashy brassy cacophony of popular advice.

How different would the world be if we followed the Desiderata? There would be more people of peace, humility, and resilience.

Disideratites are authentic souls being true to themselves and striving to be happy all while cautiously pursuing their careers and goals.

It is just such an attractive vision. Gentle to self, graceful with age, not comparing to others but happy with who and were you are.

And I love the recommendation to not fight reality, to be at peace with God and at peace in your soul. This is what I want. Being placid, full of peace, and cheerful. It is interesting to think that there was a time when people thought this was the highest goal.

It is worth pondering what it would take to get there again.

Published by Richard

I am a writer, photographer, and contemplative. My highest value is beauty and excellence. I seek to find and appreciate it, and create it. My second value is truth. I try to clearly and accurately communicate what is real and true. My third value is kindness. I study religion and science to help me understand how to increase kindness in myself and others.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: