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99 tips for a better world: go placidly amidst the noise and the haste (12 of 99)

I grew up with Desiderata on the back of the kitchen door. My friend Lara had it on the back of her toilet door. We both memorised it, as you do when you are a kid, in much the same way that you would memorise the text on a Weet-Bix packet or every word in the liner sleeve of your favourite CD.

At first I just liked its metre and read the verses over and over. As a ten year old I also found the line about ‘the dull and the ignorant’ delightfully subversive. As I got older I realised a deep fondness for this poem that seemed to encapsulate every important life lesson. And yet, it wasn’t heavy. It made a well-lived life sound easy.

I got a bit teary last week when guests read Desiderata aloud at my friend Meaghan’s wedding. Twenty years after reading it on my kitchen door, and after more hours of soul searching than I care to admit, Desiderata still seems to have the answers. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble and just paid attention the first time. What I have learnt in those 20 years, though, is that sometimes the simplest lessons are harder to follow than you expect.

Lara and I spoke again about how much we loved this poem (a conversation we’ve had many times over the years). Lara observed, ‘I love Desiderata because you notice a different verse each time you read it and it seems to be the verse you need to hear at the time’.

Desiderata

Go placidly amidst the noise and 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 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 and 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 Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy

Max Ehrmann (1872–1945)

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