How ought we to consider the turmoil around us? With stock markets collapsing, unemployment climbing, ancient Bombay under siege by terrorists, pirates ascendant off the coast of Somalia, Iran working on nuclear weapons, danger seems everywhere.
One way of looking at the situation is sent in by one of our correspondents who earlier sent in a quote that became the focus of a piece we entitled, Perishable Thoughts — Youth, Experience And The Subprime Crisis. That piece spoke to an attitude toward hiring that focused on integrity and motivation rather than traditional criteria such as experience.
Now Richard Aust with LiquidPress Company, which is a Lake Forest, California-based cold aseptic bottling technology consulting and implementation organization, sends along a quote speaking not just at how we ought to look at new employees but, perhaps, suggesting a way to look at the world in times of turmoil:
“For the man sound in body and serene in mind there is no such thing as bad weather; every sky has its beauty, and the storms which whip the blood do but make it pulse more vigorously.”
The quote can be viewed/purchased in the original:
The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft
By George Gissing
In a sense it is a rather odd line coming from George Gissing. A prolific writer, with 23 books plus multiple stories and other writings, Gissing became well-known for writing about the gritty reality of life in the slums of London.
When he wrote about other subjects, he often dealt with miserable people from the lower middle class wrestling with the social problems of the day. Other times he presented a very realistic autobiographical portrait of the life of a not very successful writer in the late 1800s.
In general the books are suffused with gloom, so such an optimistic take seems odd.
Gissing’s personal life indicates he was capable of seeing beyond social convention, and in women, at least, he found a parallel for the notion that “every sky has its beauty.”
Gissing married a prostitute and, though it ended badly, as she was an alcoholic and occasionally slipped back into her old profession, Gissing picked up his second wife off the street. This ended badly as well, and Gissing ultimately married a French woman after being diagnosed with the emphysema that would kill him at age 46.
Gissing went somewhat mad; writing many letters about the supposed horrors of French cooking. He waxed poetically about English food, which seems to have become a neurotic fascination for him. He explained that merely thinking of an English potato would make him “frantic with homesickness.”
His final completed book, Will Warburton, has a grocer as its hero. The grocer, however, loses all his money and thus is shamed by the middle class mores of the day.
This shame was something Gissing always carried with him. He had been a bright student bound for academia when he was caught stealing money from his fellow students to help the prostitute who would become his first wife. He was sent to jail for a month and then shipped off to America.
Although in later years Gissing became friends with notable people such as H.G. Wells, he was always carrying the secret of his imprisonment for a common crime, and the weight of that secret weighs down all his writing.
Still, many a writer can’t live the advice their characters can speak, and this quote seems useful. We have, after all, little choice but to accept that we live in tumultuous times.
Rather than being despondent, one answer is to try to find the good in every situation. Although, of course, there are individuals who experience real suffering, for many a shift in focus away from buying and getting may result in an increased focus on home, on family, on faith and friendship. Put another way, all is not lost and there is beauty even in this sky.
Gissing’s other point was that if one is engaged, then the problems of society can be invigorating as they give one an opportunity to be a part of the solution. It reminds one of Winston Churchill speaking of days far darker than those we face today:
“Do not let us speak of darker days; let us rather speak of sterner days. These are not dark days: these are the greatest days — the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.”
From time to time we have been attacked, as with these letters here and here for writing about issues beyond the immediate purview of the industry. We can, and do, argue that things are related and these broader issues have direct impact on the trade. Yet, it is also true that this is our way of trying to make a difference; we have a pulpit and we think it would be a shame — and maybe a sin — to waste it.
Perhaps it is worth noting that all of us have a circle of influence, which means that all of us can make a difference.
Many thanks to Richard Aust and LiquidPress Company for helping us think through this important matter.