AUDIO VERSION – Click and read along.
I learned a new word this week: Precept. By definition it means: a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought. Example: The legal precept of being innocent until proven guilty. We all have precepts that guide our lives, many we learned while teething. Look both ways before you cross. (Good) Don’t talk to strangers. (Bor-ing) Early to bed and early to rise. (Boring too, but I still do this one.) Others we learn as we grow older. Like, always wear your seatbelt. (Safe) Think before you speak. (Wise) And never chug Bacardi 151 straight from the bottle. (Well, let’s save that’s a story for another time.)
This past year I came upon a poem by Rudyard Kipling that hit me smack dab in the back of the head, just like my grade school gym teacher used to do. No, it was not Jungle Book, although the original story is exciting. No, it is the poem IF. I happened across it, one day, in my You Tube feed. Now I cannot tell you how the You Tube algorithm works, or why it picked the Michael Caine reading of this poem to queue up in, well, my queue. All I know is it just did.
Anyways, the poem IF has made an impression me, and not only because I enjoy hearing the sound of Michael Caine’s voice. No, I like it because it is smack dab full of precepts. Ones that I look to aspire to on a daily basis. Ones that are easily understood and attainable and, unfortunately, easily forgotten if not repeated regularly. Each New Year it is the conceit of all around us to make resolutions. To better ourselves. To commit to precepts that will alter our behavior in the coming months. My annual resolution, the one I have subscribed to for many decades now is this: I promise to not drink any more this year. . . This doesn’t mean that I will drink any less, I just won’t drink any more. Haha, get it? Not drink any more.
Here is a funny one for you. Try saying Michael Caine with a bad British accent and a stuffy nose at the same time. If done right you’ll sound like a drug user from the 80’s. “Where is My Co-caine”
This year for me it is different. I resolve to read this poem to myself, or others, every day this year. To remind myself how simple it is to try and be a better person. It goes as follows:
BY RUDYARD KIPLING
(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
May you and yours have a very, happy new year.