Theme of the week
Be mindful about the context
“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” – Cicero
Let’s update it
If we ought to “update” this quote, we might go with something like this “If you have a garden and an Internet connection, you have everything you need”. At first, it might sound like a parody, but if you pause for a moment, the statement is most likely to be true. I would argue that if Cicero was alive today, he would replace the library with an Internet connection. Just think about it for a second – back in the days when the famous Roman statesman, lawyer, and philosopher lived, the library was the place where all the current information and all the historical texts could be found. The Library back then was what the Internet is for us today.
Out of context
One more thing about this quote. We see millions of quotes being shared daily, but rarely we do consider the whole context out of which the quote was pulled away. People engage with quotes that resonate with their beliefs and worldview, but sometimes the context will most likely change the whole perspective of the quote.
The above quote by Cicero, I would argue, resonates a lot more with introverts like me. People prefer to relax and recharge while being in a quiet place with a book in their hands. People who reflect a lot on their thoughts and what is happening to them. People who, in most cases, prefer the quietness of the library instead of the chatter of the coffee shop.
Furthermore, the quote also resonates with people who think that we need to slow down and see that there is more to life than our work goals and ambitions.
So naturally, such a quote is a way to express such a worldview, however…
At the time of Cicero, things were a lot different than we think:
- Libraries looked like nothing that we know today. They were ordinary buildings or even a wing of a building filled with papyrus rolls. There were no strict rules to be quiet. It was not the place where you can sit down and dive deep into reading without getting distracted.
- In Roman times, the education, career advancement and public service was the only thing people like Cicero were devoting most of their lives to. The above-mentioned quote by Cicero comes in a later stage of his life. Here is what he writes to Varro that provides more context “Like the learned men of old, we must serve the state in our libraries, if we cannot in Senate House and Forums, and pursue our researches into custom and law.”. In other words, the ‘slowing down’ notion most likely is a projection of our beliefs and not what Cicero ever wanted to say.
- In Roman times, it was slaves who were doing the gardening and not the educated and noble people like Cicero. Gardening is hard and if you ever tried it, you know. Yes, it is really fulfilling, but it requires a lot of effort.
To sum up
If you encounter a quote that really resonates with you, please take some time to:
- Read the source where the quote was taken from – book/article/blog post. Get the bigger picture.
- Read more about the author and his other works
- Understand the historical context of his/her time
- Reflect on why the particular quote resonates with you. What are you trying to communicate by using it?
Looking your problems from a different perspective
I’ve been on a historical journey exploring WW1 and WW2 for the past month or so. It is mind-boggling and completely incomprehensible what the world went through during the two major wars. What really stood out for me is how the Germans treated the civilian Russians during their invasion of the Soviet Union and what the Russian did to the German civilians on their way to Berlin.
Both armies were guilty of unimaginable atrocities that I would spare here. You can just Google it.
What is more important is a mental frame that I came up with while I was going through all the killings, rapes, and brutalities. I looked at my current “problems” through the lenses of the people at that time. As soon as you try to put yourself in their boots – your problems simply vanish.
Why is it a good idea to try it yourself:
- I personally got a more sober and realistic view of my current problems. This allowed me to think clearly and act on solving them.
- Gratitude. I’m so grateful for being so fortunate to live in a safe and comfortable environment.
Is there a downside?
Well, as discussed with a friend of mine who is a psychotherapist, by looking at your problems through this perspective you are not solving them. You even might end up belittling and “putting” them temporarily away, but eventually, they will come back up.