The Silk Road

I’ve just finished another terrific Coursera course with the University of Leiden, this time on the Cosmopolitan Medieval Arabic World. As promised by the course leader, a number of my preconceptions and beliefs about this place and time in history have changed…

The sophistication of medieval Baghdad, the mixing and mingling of peoples and cultures, the virtuous circle of stability, good rule and prosperity from Spain, North Africa and the Middle East and across the arc of the Turkic silk route to China; all these and more brought technological, intellectual, medical, social and philosophical advances.

Expansion of the four Caliphates 622-750 – Wikipedia

So, nice to see some of that encapsulated in a useful aphorism, which dropped into my inbox on Monday; and that I’ve quoted three times this week:

He who has a thousand friends has not a friend to spare,

He who has one enemy will meet him everywhere.

Ali ibn-Abi-Talib c.602–661, fourth Islamic caliph: A Hundred Sayings

I first started to realise this about enemies in my late thirties, and learnt some formative lessons in making one or two in my forties. But I’ve only really fully embraced the truth of the matter post 50…

It is really really really not worth gratuitously falling out with people. There’s pretty much always an amicable way forward and it’s always worth seeking one.

Brevity

brɛvɪti – noun

1. Concise and exact use of words in writing or speech.

(Concision, succinctness, economy of language, shortness, briefness, pithiness, incisiveness, crispness, compactness, compression.)

2. Shortness of time.

(Transience, transitoriness, ephemerality, impermanence; e.g. “the brevity of human life.”)

As we process through life, there is ever more we have seen; and a good deal more we have done. It’s easy to forget how much.

Indeed there’s good evidence that’s why older people struggle to remember things – not necessarily cognitive decline; just more to sift through in the back catalogue of the mind.

Still, looking at someone’s CV the other day, I was in sympathy with Marcus Aurelius’ advice:

Don’t be a person of too many words and too many deeds….

The encapsulation of anything – and certainly a person’s CV – should be readily achievable in no more than two pages.

And reflecting on life with perhaps my finest friend this week, Marcus Aurelius’s fuller advice is also well put:

“Don’t act grudgingly, selfishly, without due diligence, or to be a contrarian. Don’t overdress your thought in fine language. Don’t be a person of too many words and too many deeds…. Be cheerful, not wanting outside help or the relief others might bring. A person needs to stand on their own, not be propped up.” —MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS, 3.5

Enough said.

A problem shared

 

Lots to learn and lots to figure out in my new job – I’m dreaming complex organisational structures most nights; and in truth, I’d rather not be. But the most important lesson of all is… even if not halved; a problem shared is a problem better understood.

Three people greatly helped me with my problems this week. Not by changing anything about the real world situation; but by taking time, listening, showing concern and helping me to describe what is happening. 

It’s a rare person indeed who is prepared to properly care; so I’m very lucky indeed to have access to a handful of exceptional people with great life experience and insight who really do. 

None of these people are ‘friends’ in the classic modern description: they’re not people I’ve known since schooldays, inflict my family on or go on holidays with. They’re all people I’ve met in a variety of work situations. 

None of them know each other – I don’t even know if they’d get on. But my life is enriched and any problems I have (and there are usually one or two) are reduced by talking to any one of them.

Someone I also saw this week – whose professional life went badly wrong once – asked me if I had anyone to talk to about where I’m at; any kind of support network? 

I smiled inwardly at that. The answer is an unequivocal yes. I have some very special people, who will always listen and help me to a better place.

A problem shared with these remarkable friends, really is a problem halved.