E ora il matrimonio della figlia più piccola in Piazza Grande, Arezzo. Il neo marito è Thomas Savage (Isola di Man, UK). And now my youngest daughter’s marriage in Piazza Grande, Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy. Her husband is Thomas Savage (Isle of Man, UK)
Elena e Tom sono ora felici. Tutto cominciò 5 anni fa, a Londra. Prima di allora conducevano due vite parallele che non s’incontravano (cito discorsi di Tom e dei suoi amici, perché i britannici fanno discorsi in queste e altre occasioni 😲 ).
Cresciuti in culture diverse, parlando due lingue diverse, avendo vissuto esperienze diverse (Tom a Parigi ed Elena a Barcellona e in Cina), si sono alla fine conosciuti al terzo piano d’uno studio di architettura a Londra, separati da una stampante.
Una divisione che è durata poiché Tom venne poi spostato in un altro piano anche se non c’è divisione che tenga, con l’amore. In Italia diremmo che un colpo di fulmine, un canale e una bottiglia di vino furono galeotti.
Ed eccoli adesso insieme, sposati e in luna di miele in Grecia, dove i genitori di Elena si sono conosciuti.
Da anni vivono in un appartamento non lontano da quel canale che li ha visti uniti per la prima volta.
Post Scriptum Come detto a Mary nel post precedente ora che il matrimonio della figlia “britannica” si è concluso posso / possiamo tornare alle nostre abitudini e, quanto a me, al blog. Stamattina, ormai qui a Roma, sfiniti, mia moglie ed io ci siamo guardati negli occhi e ci siamo detti:
“Ora le abbiamo sbolognate entrambe! [pausa interdetta] … pensa se avevamo 6 figli!! Ci avrebbero direttamente portati all’obitorio!!”
“True friendship is the most solid, the highest, the most disinterested, passionate and honest feeling that can link two persons. It implies sympathy of feelings, conviction to have found a twin soul, it is the most durable way of loving and being loved, … it is a fundamental component of happiness and, according to Epicure, the most precious good.”
“On the other hand – Bernazza adds – we cannot call authentic friends mere acquaintances ruled by feelings which are occasional, superficial, opportunistic, basically selfish. In this type of relationships liabilities are greater than assets and the final result is sorrow, most of the time.”
(his judgement on acquaintances is a bit extreme since many acquaintances in my opinion don’t necessarily end up with sorrow)
How can we attain true friendship?
“It is a construction to be built little by little, day by day, with patience and perseverance, with affection and intelligence, considering it is an achievement among the most complex, long, delicate that heart and mind together can accomplish.”
Friendship impacts on 3 points of CP’s list. Which list? A list regarding 20 major existential issues which, according to Dario Bernazza, we should address in the best possible way in order to diminish life liabilities and live a happy life. Friendship in fact regards points 4 (friendship), 5 (marriage) and 6 (children).
True friendship – Bernazza states – is the only factor that produces a good marriage or union between two partners.
True friendship is the only key to success in the relationship between parents and children, allowing mutual respect and the mutual fulfilment of rights and duties.
Bernazza’s idea of friendship is surely dated and it includes a wider range of affectionate relationships than the modern friendship concept does, being not far from Montaigne’s amitié, connected to the Latin amicitia and the Greek philìa.
On the other hand, romantic love to him is important only to a certain extent. Life to CP should be a careful construction. So I wonder if he would be for arranged marriages. Well, yes and no, since to him each person must be the real planner of his/her life.
[By the way, the Western romantic approach to marriage is just one possibility: arranged marriages thrived for thousands of years and are today still common in many parts of the world. Discussions on this theme by Indians can be read at Nita’s blog: 1 and 2]
Bernazza is an interesting example of cultural isolation. His thought is organic like the wine one finds directly at the farm, surely inferior to the big wines, but with a genuineness and that special patina which smells of the past.
But I’m asking myself: 1) is friendship really so important in the relationship with a partner and in parenting? 2) should living our entire life with a partner be the fruit of a thoughtful decision and a careful construction (when looking for “the one” why don’t we ask mamma, someone wrote) or should all be decided by attraction and romantic passion only?
This is a continuation of the previous post where we have narrated three episodes each containing an example of the Greek fear in gods’ envy.
What is this envy? Well, since the Greek gods lived an eternal and blissful life they watched with an envious eye men who were too prosperous and happy, hence they humbled and punished them, hence men were afraid to express their happiness too loud, lest some envious god might spot them and hit.
The 3 episodes also showed that in modern Greece and some parts of Italy, especially in the South, people’s minds can still contain elements of the antique Greco-Roman culture. Italians do not believe in these gods any more (well, deep inside who can say that,) but there are still people here who are afraid of expressing satisfaction when something is going very well, lest ill luck might whack them (it is to be noted that the Italian coastal South was first colonized by the Greeks – Magna Graecia – , and only later assimilated by the Romans).
Andy, an Englishman living in Milan, thus commented: “I find it strange how Italians, for all their religion, are so superstitious. And your post shows how not much has changed in all these years.”
Well, is this fear a superstition? Probably, but superstition after all is an irrational belief, so I wouldn’t oppose religion and superstition, they appearing to me to be the same (Andy agrees: see below his comment).
Moreover, superstitious or not, it is a fact that Italians were civilized longbefore Christianity arrived. So they are still a bit pagan at heart even though they captained the spread of the Christian religion. Hard to understand, I know, but true in my opinion.
Andy, together with Indian Falcon and Ashish – two other aficionados of this blog – also found incomprehensible this attitude of the Greek gods. “Is something who is so envious worth being cared for..?” wondered Falcon.
I know this envy seems only negative – I replied. Men shouldn’t be too happy since gods only should be happy: it sounds mean, no doubt (read later about these gods’ amorality). The positive thing underlying all this, however, was that it lead to a common people’s wisdom, kind of a tendency towards a moderate life (in a good sense). For the upper classes it was also a matter of style, of behaving without ostentation or vulgarity. There was some arrogance in Polycrates’ life, so he died a terrible death: this is somewhat a lesson. When Greece began its decadence someone wrote: “modesty and virtue are now powerless, lawlessness rules and men do not strive any more against gods’ envy”.
In other words, this fear of gods’ envy was like a regulation valve. It helped, together with other elements, to develop temperance and the good style in life. Classical Greece (V cent. BC) was a civilization based on an admirable equilibrium. The golden mean. A concept we frequently get back to.
Another point is that the Greek ancient gods were amoral and whimsical. They didn’t care much about good and evil. Weirdly enough this had a good effect as well. Men didn’t think gods were morally perfect while men full of iniquity, and, since they could not count on these whimsical gods’ help, men had to make their own destiny and had to believe in their worth. Western man thinks instead that he is corrupted and a sinner from the beginning (original sin) and that only God can save him.
[The Renaissance only by developing humanism and humanitas has mitigated this belief by stressing both man’s worth and freedom. Incidentally, the Renaissance origin, Italy, and its deep meaning, the rediscovery of the classical world, are not fortuitous, how can they be, they representing like survivals of the ancient world popping up again not only as mere imitation]
Finally Greek men were not striving to be good just because they expected a reward from god(s) or feared their punishment. Given such unpredictable gods, when men were good they were such because they really wanted to, not for any other external reason.
Human Mind like a Museum
As a conclusion, we’ll expand a bit something we said about our country. There are areas of the Italian South which are still developing and which contain more than elsewhere precious elements of our ancient culture. In short, they are like a museum.
I would add that every man’s mind is like a museum, no matter where he comes from, since it contains almost infinite traces of past conceptions, from Stone Age onwards, though without an inventory. This Magister said many years ago. He said we should make such an inventory. To criticise our mind – he explained – is to make such an inventory.
In Living to our Fullest Potential we wrote about Dario Bernazza‘s list of the 30 major issues we must necessarily solve in the best possible way in order to diminish life sufferings and live a fruitful life. After no. 1 in his list (Defining a purpose in life) we will here consider no. 2 and no. 3, namely:
2. Keeping ourselves in good health
3. Serenity of soul
According to Bernazza (I am summarizing freely) health is more precious than wealth or power. It is a prerequisite for a fruitful and happy life. “It is the condition without which the edifice of happiness cannot be built or, if it is already in place, its falling apart cannot be avoided”. Better to be an unknown man who is in good health, than being a successful man who is sick. Good health is a way of delaying old age and fighting back death.
We should abstain ourselves from intemperance and dissolute living, because the pleasure of wellbeing is by far greater than that of revels of any kind that will later make us sick and will endanger our health. Bernazza condones a few exceptions – as, it is my thought, our civilization always did: from Roman Saturnalia to modern Carnivals.
So here we can quote, since Bernazza doesn’t, the Roman poet Horace who teaches to “mingle a little folly with your wisdom: a little nonsense now and then is pleasant.”
Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem:
Dulce est desipere in loco.
(Horace: 4 Odes, xii. 28.)
(Don’t know who translated Horace’s verses into English. Now and then makes good rhythm and is fine to me as a concept, but a better translation of in loco should be “at a proper time”.)
As a conclusion, a minimum advice from Bernazza on how to keep our good health: a walk at a good pace of 2-3 km every day in a park or green area.
Serenity of soul
Attaining serenity of soul is an effective weapon against life liabilities, namely all the sufferings that life inflicts upon us without mercy. But how can we attain it?
We first have to better understand life sufferings.
Physical sufferings can be diminished by taking care of our health, as we said before – argues Country Philosopher (this is how we like to call Dario Bernazza.)
As for psychical sufferings, some originate from the consequences of our bad choices, others from events we do not have control over, like the death of someone we love or people’s wicked actions.
As regards both types of suffering, to learn how to control nervous over excitability can be of great benefit, argues CP, and especially over excitability negative side, which is anger (the positive side of overexcitability being joy.) The less we get angry – and generally overemotional, in a negative sense -, the less we suffer. The more we get angry – and overemotional -, the more we suffer.
Well, is it possible to always avoid anger and nervous overexcitement?
Only the strictest stoics and the strictest oriental religious gurus deem it possible – argues CP. But that would mean to have the psyche of a corpse, which is not possible, unless we really are a corpse. What we can do is limiting our nervous overexcitement to such an extent that real negative overexcitement is not possible any more. “This means reaching a status of psychic calmness more or less unalterable, thence a substantial serenity of soul.”
It is an immense, invaluable benefit, it is clear – argues CP – because in this way we can highly diminish psychic sufferings which are the sufferings that mostly plague our life.
But how can we possibly attain this?
Exercise creates a habit
“Socrates – argues Bernazza – teaches us how: through exercise, since exercise creates a habit, any habit. And how long must this exercise last? Until the day we really get into the habit of not getting angry and overemotional any more. It is a long exercise and not an easy one and it cannot but last a few years.”
But, even if we fail and get now and then overemotional let us remember to never give up, this being highly important, since perseverance will certainly allow us to attain our positive result – there is no doubt about it, there is really no doubt (I told you CP keeps repeating this phrase.)
Note. As regards anger, Bernazza follows the tradition of the Greek and Roman philosophers who generally were in favour of self control and were hostile to anger. To Seneca and Galen uncontrolled anger was similar to madness. Anger to Seneca was useless, even in war. He praised the disciplined Roman armies who were capable of beating the Germans who were instead famous for their fury.
Following is a list of our writings on Dario Bernazza:
In “Vivere alla massima espressione” (Living to our fullest potential) Dario Bernazza provides a list of the major problems we have to solve in order to live a life “worthy of being lived”.
[Dario Bernazza, Vivere alla massima espressione, Editrice Partenone – Luciano Bernazza & C – Roma 1989]
It is the first of Bernazza’s books we stumbled upon and the reason we were first captured (and which kept us reading) was the fact that a similar list was handed over to us by our mentor since the first days of our encounter (above you can see The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David, 1787.)
Well, not that we think Bernazza is like Socrates. He though refers a lot to Socrates’ thought, plus certainly Magister, our mentor, was a bit like a Socrates to us.
If liabilities (sufferings) exceed the assets (every pleasant moment, satisfaction or success) our life is a failure (and it would be preferable not to have come into this world). If the contrary occurs, our life is happy and fruitful (or advantageous, as CP puts it).
Liabilities though are not avoidable and are inflicted on us without any mercy, while the assets are not given us as a gift, and we must earn them day by day, bit by bit.
By providing the best possible solutionto the major problems of our life. This is our only way of diverting or softening our life liabilities.
The Happiness List
Let us then look at these major issues which, according to CP, we must necessarily address in the best possible way. They are 20. Yes, 20. Exactly. Bernazza is always a bit categorical. Here is the list.
1. Defining a purpose in life
2. Keeping ourselves in good health
3. Serenity of soul
8. Being reasonably well-off
9. Enjoyment, beauty and the exquisite
10. Loneliness, ennui and feeling of emptiness
11. Choice of studies, job, career
12. Choosing where to live
13. Our behaviour towards others
14. Embracing ‘good’ as an irreversible choice
15. Excess and vice
16. Being equipped with an adequate ethical instrumentation
17. Happiness is a long, sensible (and attainable) personal conquest
18. Will is power
19. Being convinced of the enormous power of honesty
20. The necessity of carefully planning our life
Since we cannot report on every single point of the list, only 2-3 points will be analysed (here and in future posts). As far as the rest, we will only touch upon the things that struck us most.
1. The Purpose of Life
Our life, like a long and complex journey, has to set its goal. So, which is this goal and how can we define it? The argumentation of CP is clear and simple (and probably naïve, but I cannot but feel some truth in it): Since our life is the only chance of existing we have, after which we will disappear (CP is an agnostic who considers probable our annihilation after death), one should be really convinced that the most irreparable of errors is that of not trying our best to live to the highest possible degree. If our existence is nothing but a blink between two eternities (theories of modern physicists do not seem to interest CP) the purpose of life is necessarily that of living this sole life we have to our fullest potential.
Every single day must be lived to our best, and we must continuously improve this capacity of living to our fullest. This is why we should not ask ourselves – says CP – “why do I exist” (a question we can answer via the twisted efforts of our imagination only) but rather: “how do I exist?”.
The problem is that very few people know what is most convenient to us in our everyday choices, i.e. we do not know what actions shall bring us happiness or sorrow (this previous post discusses this point). If we knew – argues CP – the number of unhappy people around would be smaller. This is why learning how to solve the main problems of life (the list, again) will diminish our life’s liabilities and allow us to live in the best possible way.
We talked about Country Philosopher before (in two earlier posts at least, 1 and 2). We said how he is free from doubt and how his argumentations, often categorical and at times naïve, are however not deprived of interest and of this ancient fascination so hard to explain.
In the following passage, freely summarized and which will hopefully better clarify this point to our readers, Dario Bernazza – his real name – tells us how there is like a balance in our life.
When liabilities exceed the assets, our life is a failure. When the contrary occurs, our life is successful and happy. Simple. Categorical. This is Bernazza.
Let us try to understand.
[Dario Bernazza, Vivere alla massima espressione, Editrice Partenone – Luciano Bernazza & C – Roma 1989, pp. 12-22]
Life is such that we cannot avoid its offensive – bitterness and sufferings of all kinds. These are life’s liabilities.
Which are these liabilities?
Since our childhood we are exposed to numerous internal and external enemies.
“Among the internal enemies: ignorance, dishonesty, little respect for truth, selfishness, conceit, inclination to excess, worship of money, lechery, anger, sloth, unproductive envy, hate, lack of authentic affections, ennui, loneliness, excessive shyness, superficiality, lack of ambition, incorrect reasoning, intolerance, wrong pastimes, disregard for other people’s rights, wrong solutions, tendency to join the herd, undue submission, acquiescence towards the avoidable, pessimism, optimism … .”
“External enemies: to be born in a foolish family, lack of (or wrong) education, inadequate school teaching, bad company, incapability or dishonesty of politicians ruling us, difficulties of any kind, job-related worries and fatigue, lack of money, unfavorable unexpected events, diseases, all flaws and errors by others, wrong clichés, perverse temptations, evildoers of any kind … .”
This is only a partial list of our dreadful, obstinate, sometimes alluring, enemies – argues Dario Bernazza. They are responsible for our sufferings, namely our life liabilities.
In order to make our life advantageous it is necessary to oppose some adequate assets to those liabilities. It is obvious, says Bernazza.
But which can these assets be?
“They consists, naturally, in the sum of every pleasant moment, of every satisfaction and success that we are capable of attaining during our whole existence. If such sum is greater than that determined by our life offenses, or liabilities, it is ok. If it is instead lower, then it would be preferable not to have come into this world.
We must in fact be brave enough to honour truth – says Bernazza. Who can in fact say it is preferable to start a firm whose liabilities exceed the assets, instead of not starting it altogether? Only a fool can say that.”
[From which we infer that Bernazza is a non believer]
We must also consider – CP argues – that while these liabilities are spontaneously inflicted on us by life without any mercy, the assets are not given us as a gift, but we must earn them day by day, bit by bit.
And the only way to earn them is that of giving the best solutionto the major problems of our life. If we can do this, we divert or soften life liabilities, or sometimes we can even eliminate some of them.
Bernazza then identifies 20 major problems we must necessarily solve in the best possible way in order to minimize life liabilities and live a fruitful life (or advantageous, as he says).
How can we live a better life (says Country Philosopher)? According to Socrates (depicted above while trying to convince Alcibiadesto leave charming Aspasia‘s house) everything is attainable through exercise – I am quoting CP freely – because exercise creates a habit, any habit.
[Looking habit up in the on-line Webster we read that it is “a behaviour pattern acquired by frequent repetition.”]
So it seems that all we need, in order to live a better life – CP argues – is just practising regularly what makes us live better, while at the same time gradually abandoning what makes us live worse. Very easy to say but very difficult to realize – CP continues. The reason is that very few people know what makes us live better, i.e. what are the things that make us live happily, which are of course the most convenientand advantageous to us.
According to our nature we all tend towards our well-being and best comfort, both spiritual and material – it cannot be denied, says CP. In other words we should all tend towards what is really convenient for us, the problem oddly enough being that at present we seem to have forgotten what is really convenient for us. Otherwise how can we explain that so many people are unhappy despite the fact that they possess what is necessary to live, and sometimes even more than that?
As we just said we can explain this with the fact that these people (all of us) know little or nothing of what is really convenient or advantageous, even in small trivia and in everyday practical choices. In short, there are so many people around who visibly make the wrong choices, which are disadvantageous choices. These people consequently live worse and worse, while they could live better and better.
(Dario Bernazza, Vivere alla massima espressione, Editrice Partenone – Luciano Bernazza & C – Roma 1989, from page 25 on)
Could this be one of the fundamental problems of our so-called rich countries (I’m asking myself)? They should be full of happy people, all the requirements for happiness (or serenity) being present. But since so many people are evidently unhappy there must be necessarily a problem of ethical confusion: people do not know any more what is convenient or non convenient to do (ethics is a branch of philosophy which encompasses right conduct and good living – a definition taken from Wikipedia).
A Rational Sovereign Spirit
As far as we are concerned, it is very hard to answer to CP’s question (how we can live a better life). We will only consider that the Ancient Romans, who acquired philosophy from the Greeks but who were much more practical and solid than their philosophy mentors, faced life with great success thanks to their iron will, their rationality and self-control. The scions of the well-to-do Roman families flocked to Greece to study the Epicurean and Stoic doctrines, two very significant schools of thought for Rome, which Rome was able to adapt to her needs – like everything Rome learned from others – and which was propagated by Rome in every region of the Empire.
Today we still admire Julius Caesar’s sovereign spirit, calm, always mastering himself even when facing the most dreadful tragedies, his writings & actions being a vivid testimony of his character. Caesar was though but a fruit – one of the greatest, maybe – of a civilization based mainly on reason.
Is a conduct based on this method still valid today? This question arises when reading this Country Philosopher so stubbornly convinced – like the Ancients were – of the thaumathurgic power of human rationality. Is it possible today, while confronting with everyday problems, to draw any benefit from the philosophies of our Ancient World?
We do believe (and we do hope) it is possible.
Right Measure in Pleasure
As an example, we can try to apply Roman rational wisdom to the concept of vice, meaning by this term a moral fault that can harm us. Vices can in fact ruin our life. If we drink or smoke too much, if we become sex (or gambling) maniacs we gradually (or quickly) ruin our life. Actually vices are not those horrible things depicted by priests – CP argues – and at the base of many so-called vices are in reality those pleasant things which make life worth living. Why then don’t we benefit from them? Is it true that all that is pleasurable is harmful and – as some believers say – should be prohibited? What is a Roman-like solution to this problem, since in this blog we are talking about retrieving fragments of our Romans’ ancient wisdom?
Surely abstinence is not Roman-like, it is rather monk-like. The Romans loved terrestrial life much more than ultramundane life (a world of pale ghosts to them). They loved life before death, not after death, and were not inclined to reject its pleasures. The solution for a Roman therefore doesn’t reside in renouncing to life and its pleasures. On the contrary, it resides in the correct measure in which we enjoy life, which implies moderation and non addiction, since any addiction makes us slaves of passions (pleasures), makes us non free.
A beautiful and conclusive sentence by CP: “A right measure prevents the genesis of vice, which incidentally is nothing but a measure not correct – i.e. excessive – which has become a habit.”
PS Note. The Ancients’ reflection on human rationality is of great importance and modern philosophy and science are derived from it. Rationality should though be integrated with the modern concepts of will and imagination. There is some debate today on these topics, I will provide links as soon as I can. The Ancients practiced reason, will and imagination, of course, but didn’t theorize much and didn’t developed techniques that pertain to the last two elements.
“Diary-writing isn’t wholly good for one … It leads to living for one’s diary instead of living for the fun of living as ordinary people do”. James Agate 1877-1947, British drama critic and novelist.
Regardless of the fact that diary-writing can be part of the fun of living, the observation is certainly appropriate, since when dealing with actions or passions in life our challenge is always the right measure, and even when we sometimes (or often) wallow in them (our passions etc.) it is good we keep this well in mind.
Life, generally, should be something harmonious where a single part should never devour the rest. A thing like that can of course occur and the results be sometimes outstanding – as it happens with those geniuses who are such only because they concentrate all their potential on one single point. This kind of disharmony though hardly brings happiness.
Note to some comments to this post. I had commented on this blog’s post Buddhist thought of the day with some thoughts about Buddhism: “I am not religious but I think that Buddhism, compared with other religions, is more endowed to confront with modern science…since, as Dalai Lama says, “it grants maximum authority to experience, secondly to reason and only lastly to scriptures”. This is why Indian xntricpundits has sent me these comments on Buddhism and not on diary-writing.