I once had the good fortune of being an assistant to the actor John Rhys-Davies for three days at a media event.
He is perhaps best known for playing Gimli the Dwarf in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, or if you are a bit older (or geekier) you might remember him as Indiana Jones’ Egyptian friend Sallah.
Aside from enjoying the amazing timbre and tones of his voice for two and a half days, telling exceptionally fascinating stories from his long career, it was a joy to discover that aside from being a gentleman’s gentleman, his knowledge was vast and scholarly.
We discussed ancient Greek history, comparative religion, astrophysics, and J.S. Bach. Although I favor the Bundesliga over the Premier League, once he admitted that his favorite club was “The Gunners” (Arsenal), I now always root for them above all other English teams.
While sitting in the Green Room, during a break from the long lines of thousands of fans waiting to meet with the man best known for slaying orcs (“Ya gotta take’em out at the knees, then bash their skulls in ‘ta make sure they’re dead!”), someone at the table brought up politics.
That person described how he and some friends wanted to start a new political party, one that greatly emphasizes a citizen’s rights and freedoms.
Mr. Rhys-Davies remained generally quiet, only asking brief questions here and there (as wise men tend to do), until he was asked his thoughts on the state of modern politics, and if he would support this new political movement.
After a dramatic pause, he spoke with an air of calmness and confident authority:
“Unless I not only hear about rights, but responsibilities as well, I would have no interest in any such movement. I keep hearing ‘my rights’ and ‘my freedoms,’ but without an emphasis on responsibilities, you do not deserve rights and freedoms. We all have a duty to help our fellow man, but it seems many are rather selfish, lacking civility and dignity or concern for anyone other than themselves. Before you can take things because they are your right, you must give for the betterment of others. Without being willing to sacrifice something, you shouldn’t expect to get anything.”
That quashed the somewhat prideful and grandiose ideas being discussed by others only moments before, for Mr. Rhys-Davies just spoke truth.
It was a truth that the Stoics were promoting 2,000 years ago, but had just as much popularity then as it does now (i.e.: not many people want to hear it.)
We are part of a community; locally, nationally, globally. There is absolutely no dignity or wisdom in thinking the world owes you anything. It is rather despicable to think that one is the center of the universe, when in actuality you share a common bond with others; the simple, yet most profound bond of being part of the human family.
Whether you believe that we came from the design of a divine being, or understand that we survived as a species because of mutual protection and support throughout the stages of evolution, wisdom resides in helping others meet their needs, especially if we expect them to help us meet ours.
Acta Non Verba: At the start of each day, ask yourself, “What will I do to help others?” (And it is okay, perhaps even vital, to add, “…even though most of them act like idiots.”)
…shouldn’t everyone do things for his neighbor as well as for himself and thus make sure that his city has thriving families and that it is not a wasteland? – Musonius Rufus
…take no detours from the high road of reason and social responsibility. – Marcus Aurelius
Let this be your one joy and delight: to go from one act of kindness to another. – Marcus Aurelius
I am a body part in the single organism of all intelligent life. – Marcus Aurelius
First, do nothing unintentionally or without some end in mind. Second, make the common good the only end of all your actions. – Marcus Aurelius
…first, I am a part of the universe governed by nature; and second I am related in some way to the other parts like myself. – Marcus Aurelius
Wherever there is a human being, there exists the opportunity for an act of kindness. – Seneca
Nature prompts me to benefit all men. – Seneca
Stephen Sumner is a writer with over three decades experience studying what it means to have a good life. He has a BS in Human Development and Family Studies from Cornell University. His favorite pastimes include reading, fountain pens, and growing insanely hot peppers. Click here to follow him on Twitter.
Original, non-meme image from Cristian Newman via Unsplash.com.