On Desiderata, that old poster

Posted 09.12.14

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Ages ago it seemed as though every apartment and dormitory room had a poster called "Desiderata." The poster, presumably, carried advice on how to lead a happy and fulfilling life.

The advice was hardly Earth-shaking -- "Go placidly amid the noise and haste." -- "Do not feign affection." And the now-famous "You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and stars." Yet every one of its ten suggestions is solid and realistic advice.

One of the ten included the advice to avoid vexatious people, something I have always remembered, even if I've been unable to fulfill it in many cases. There are so many vexatious people! And, for all we can tell, you and I might be considered so by some. Our self-evaluations are rarely clear or entirely honest.

Vexatious people, it noted, are loud and aggressive persons. With such people in our company, it is difficult to listen to others, and listening, we know, is a key life skill, too often assumed to exist and yet so easily over-looked and rarely checked.

"Did I hear her/him right?" is something we don't always ask ourselves in a conversation, especially difficult ones.

These people, says the Desiderata, are "vexatious to the spirit." Loud and aggressive, vain and self-centered, these people keep us from our own spirits and keep us from appreciating those elements in our lives which nourish our spirits. They constantly direct out attention to themselves, to their accomplishments, or their challenges, rather than to our own.

Vexatious people spread rumours and misunderstandings; with them around, we come to be cynical and even mistrustful of others. We fail to learn lessons which our own lives have prepared for us.

How can we "be kind to ourselves" listening to the gossip and rumours carried by vexatious people? How to avoid "distressing ourselves with dark imaginings" when we are surrounded by the paranoia and fantasies of busybodies and of the unsatisfied?

Most of all, vexatious people keep us from experiencing love. To receive the love of others -- our kids, parents, our friends -- we must be open to their gift. We must be able to notice and see the small things, the gestures of our friends, which can mean so much and which can express love more strongly than dramatic and exaggerated avowals. Better than greeting cards. Better than a slap on the back.

We must be open to the world, says Desiderata, and not be so determined to impose our understanding and our portrayal of others. How can we be open and receptive, next to the bombast and pettiness of these vexatious folks?

In this recounting of that old poster, I see that this one bit of advice, to avoid vexatious people and their dramas, actually touches all the advice, all the suggestions of that poem, for it originally was a poem.

So if we can achieve this one goal, we will be achieving them all.


Copyright © 2014 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/09.14