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.
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.
I took the redoubtable Chris Croft up on his offer of a ‘Year of Happiness’ emails over Christmas. I told a friend, and she did the same.
She emailed me last week as below:
This made me smile – in truth 2020 has been a car-crash from start to finish. And where we are now: locked down and cooped-up – as the economy stops dead and we improvise field hospitals – is simply incredible.
Chris’s advice in this week’s happiness email is to ‘worry less’. For once I very nearly didn’t bother to read on.
But as always he has a point; and a practical suggestion… make a list.
To start with, make a list all of your worries. There’s something very therapeutic about writing things down, because it gives you permission to get them out of your brain, and that takes them further away from you, where they seem less important, and more easy to work on and to kill them off.
Usually, my list of worries would be the same somewhat improbable ‘sum of all fears’ one it’s always been:
Losing my job;
Not having enough money;
Having to sell the house;
The whole family confronting me and saying: ‘Dad, you’ve completely failed us.’
Thanks to Coronavirus though these are bang on the £££money – compounded by the very real fear of the lack of it.
But now I can add:
Facing a riot/riots at work;
Facing a riot in our street;
Having to stop paying people;
Having to furlough people (whole new worry!);
Having to make people redundant;
Having to hold onto people’s money who want it back;
Having to pay other people for things we are no longer sure we can afford;
Loved ones getting ill;
Running out of food;
Not being allowed out to walk the dog;
There never being any jobs of the sort I do ever again
My pension disappearing so I can never escape work I hate.
That about captures it! A proper list of worries.
So what to do? Paraphrasing Chris:
But what if the worry really is about something serious? What can you do about that? And the answer is nothing, there IS nothing you can do. Just tell yourself, it’s going to be fine. Keep saying it till you believe it, and finally, put it into context, it’s not the end of the world if it happens.
Montaigne’s Essays talk of French life in the sixteenth century, in a way which is accessible, modern and make it seem much like life today. More letters and fewer screens back then; but the same dramas of human affairs.
Except… they were in the middle of a bloody civil war of all-against-all.
As La Boétie describes it:
The result: “almost universal hate and malevolence between the king’s subjects, which in some places feeds secretly, in others declares itself more openly, but everywhere produces sad results… It divides citizens, neighbours, friends, parents, brothers, fathers and children, husband and wife.”
What followed was a series of massacres starting in Paris on St. Bartholomew’s Day, spreading to twelve other cities: Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lyon, Bourges, Rouen, Orléans, Meaux, Angers, La Charité, Saumur, Gaillac and Troyes; and killing c10,000 people.
The UK’s WWII ‘Blitz spirit’ and Dunkirk rhetoric is getting more than a bit tired, but I’d rather take Covid-19 than face religious slaughter.
My worries – like everyone’s – are very real; but pretty much every age which precedes us has known worse.