Perfer et obdura; dolor hic tibi proderit olim

Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.

This is Ovid’s more prosaic and less memorable version of Virgil’s “forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit…” Adversity builds character – this was once taken for granted as the truth. Now it is occasionally questioned. Too much strain can break or embitter us. 

People are resilient. This is for the best, as virtually all of us have to call upon our reserves of mettle from time to time. Some lives may be bereft of hardship, but there are always tragedies. Maybe some events, or rather our reactions to them, can leave us more vulnerable. Others may be more likely, depending on our character and circumstances, to fortify us. 

Pulchrum est paucorum hominum 

Beauty is for the few. 

There are different ways to appreciate the same experience. This statement suggests only an “elite” can understand beauty. In other words, it is exactly what we should expect from Nietzsche. 

Someone who has played the violin for three decades probably has a deeper appreciation for a Bach concerto than I do. They haven’t just listened, but have played through, all the nuances many times before. They have many more memories, associations of all kinds, of every aspect of the composition. 

Assuming they are a good violinist, their bodies know it. Every note is encoded into their nerves. The piece is like an appendage to them. 

I may have a better familiarity with the history of the piece or the biography of the composer, but that hardly makes my understanding of the music deeper. All of this may add to my enjoyment, but my appreciation is naïve.  

Yet the goosebumps great art can give us are, as far as I know, not unique to an elect. Nietzsche’s elitism was provocative last century, but now it’s mostly amusing.

Prodesse quam conspici

To accomplish rather than be conspicuous

This seems like a strange motto for the  University of Miami, as I don’t think many people associate modesty in any form with that city. It is still a laudable sentiment. 

It’s no secret that the squeaky wheel gets the oil; the loudest and boldest among us tend to get the most attention. Assuming they’re reasonably graceful, this may result in promotions, praise, and credit they did not fully earn. 

Vast swathes of the population seem to be waking up to this basic fact: appearance and reality are not the same thing. It doesn’t seem to be peculiar to any one group. We are waking up to the fact that a person’s position or title can be little more than a set of syllables. It may be a sign of virtue, wisdom, or attainment, but it is not a guarantee. 

There is a growing and ongoing rebellion against experts and, somewhat alarmingly, against expertise itself. We rarely encounter Scylla without Charybdis. If we sail too far in one direction, we are headed for danger. We should be as wary of forfeiting our reason to the academy as handing it over to the mob.  

Most of these people are not in any position to cross-examine their hamsters, much less someone who has dedicated their life to a specialized area of research. 

Oh dear, now that sounds rather elitist. Nietzsche is snickering. 

Parvis imbutus tentabis grandia tutus 

When you are steeped in little things, you shall safely attempt great things.

The importance of small things is being forgotten. I’m not referring here to rhythmically drinking tea or making our beds in the morning. That smacks of mindfulness which, aside from being far too fashionable for a stalwart contrarian like me to condone, puts too much emphasis on the present.  

Cultures of immediate gratification demand larger rewards for less effort. This, as we might imagine, is self-defeating and ultimately self-destructive. Four generations of Americans have been surrounded in a system of consumption that, directly and indirectly, encourages this mode of thinking. 

The silver lining is that an increasing number of young people are waking up to just how much work is needed to achieve anything of note. As I said, people are resilient and adaptive. They can see their mistakes and, on occasion, even learn from them.

Hope springs eternal.

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