In the post last week, “Do it right!!!” Overfilling your brain with the right stuff, I complained about the author of Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday, falling into a simplistic reading of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act I, Scene 3, 564-567, where Polonius, the king’s chief counselor, gives these concluding lines of advice to his son Laertes who is sailing away to University:
This above all – to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee!
The problem is that these words sound great, and they may be good advice most of the time when dealing with honest people, but at critical times like when someone is trying to murder you, it is a better policy for your own self-survival to be infinitely subtle and false to the planners of your demise.
The title of the book, Ego is the Enemy, and the cover of the book, with a beautiful Roman-style portrait bust statue with its head knocked off, perfectly state Holiday’s developmental problem. He is like an amalgamation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Polonius and Ophelia trapped in shortsightedness of the real problems of survival.
Some of the greatest heroes of history looked ahead, saw their own demise at the hands of treacherous intellectual opponents, and chose to pursue their cause and in some bizarre way enjoy their own well-staged deaths. Seneca, Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, and Socrates seem to have realized that their method of departure from public life would bring immortality to their words. They wouldn’t live forever, but their actions as described in the form of word images are immortal and alive today. Shakespeare stated this well in
But be contented when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away;
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee;
The earth can have but earth, which is his due,
My spirit is thine, the better part of me;
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead,
The coward conquest of a wretch’s knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered;
The worth of that, is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains.
Every moment I must choose what is the most important thing I can do NOW.