Quotes: Our Real Journey in Life Is Interior

Trappist monk Thomas Merton apparently was very concerned with silence and retreat from the world and its opposing force, that of engagement with the world and its ourward pull.

Current Reading Silence

“Our real journey in life is interior. It is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts. Never was it more necessary for us to respond to that action.”

– Thomas Merton, 1975

Apparently this quote is from a collection of journal entries Merton made in Asia shortly before his accidental death during the trip.

Not being a philosopher or a spiritual person, I couldn’t tell you what I think of “the creative action of love and grace”. However, the conclusion I’m more and more leaning towards is that the most important thing in life is one’s internal growth and what external actions (hopefully positive or beneficial to others) stem out of that.

Merton, Thomas. “Serious Communication”: The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, eds. Naomi Burton, Brother Patrick Hart and James Laughlin, p. 29. New York: New Directions, 1975. Quoted in Brox, Jane. Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements if Our Lives. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019, p. 225.

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Quotes: You Can Be Warm and Vulnerable with People You Trust

Some power reading on gender and power, especially at Anglo-American financial companies:

“My Kleiner colleagues said that I sucked the air out of the room, that I ‘wasn’t the warmest person.’ Now [after leaving] I’m told the opposite. I’ve thought a lot about how I was accused of being cold and unlikeable at Kleiner. Looking back, maybe I was. But it wasn’t because I’m a cold person. It was because I needed to have my guard up all the time. You can be warm and vulnerable with people you trust, not with those who you know are trying to keep you down.”

– Ellen Pao

Current Reading Reset

I can attest from personal experience, even if not in the same environment.

Pao, Ellen. Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change. New York: Spegel & Grau, 2017, p. 259.

Image by Eppu Jensen

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Aithiopia Forever

The Greek historian Herodotus tells us some interesting stories about the people he refers to as Ethiopians (or Aithiopes in Greek). The term Ethiopians/Aithiopes was widely used in ancient Greece for any dark-skinned people from the southern regions of Africa or India, but the people Herodotus means were those who lived in the northeastern African interior, south of Egypt along the Nile, in the region we know as Nubia.

Herodotus reports several remarkable things about these Ethiopians.While many of these stories are fanciful, or at least greatly exaggerated, they paint an interesting picture of what Herodotus and his fellow Greeks imagined the people of inner Africa to be like.

They were physically impressive and long-lived:

The Ethiopians are said to be the tallest and most beautiful of all peoples.

– Herodotus, Histories 3.20

Most of them live to 120 and some surpass this.

– Herodotus, Histories 3.23

They enjoyed a life of ease and good health, enabled by the special resources of their land:

There is a meadow outside the city filled with boiled meats from animals of all kinds. The lords of the city make it their custom to set these meats out at night, and during the day anyone who wants to may feast there. The locals say that the earth itself provides these things.

– Herodotus, Histories 3.18

[The Ethiopians possessed] a spring where they washed themselves and became sleeker, as if they had bathed in oil, even though it smelled of violets. … [T]he water of this spring was so light that nothing could float on it, neither wood nor anything lighter. Everything just sank to the bottom. If what they say is true, it seems likely that it is their regular use of this spring that makes them all so long-lived.

– Herodotus, Histories 3.23

They have an interesting way of choosing their leader:

Their customs are unlike those of any other people, and especially their kingship: they choose as king the one among them who is tallest and has the strength to match his height.

– Herodotus, Histories 3.20

And they preferred to be left alone and not be bothered by the rest of the world’s problems:

The Ethiopian king said [to the Persian king’s emissaries]: “The king of the Persians does not send you with these gifts because he desires my friendship, nor have you spoken the truth, for you have come here to spy on my kingdom. Nor is that man just, for if he were he would not desire the lands of others or enslave men who have done him no wrong. Now, give him this bow and say to him: ‘The king of the Ethiopians advises the king of the Persians that when a Persian can draw so strong a bow as easily as I do, then he may contemplate making war upon the long-lived Ethiopians. Until then, let him thank the gods for not putting the sons of the Ethiopians in a mood to conquer other lands.’”

– Herodotus, Histories 3.21

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

Herodotus’ Aithiopia is essentially Wakanda.

Happy anniversary, Black Panther!

Image: T’Challa and Shuri via Giphy

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Quotes: Tanks Being Repulsed by Pistol Fire

After the Finnish centennial in 2017, I’ve been reading outside my usual periods of Finnish history a little, including on the Finnish Winter War (1939-1940, for 105 days against the USSR). Here’s another literally incredible detail.

Fighting was going on near Hulkoniemi village (close to Suomussalmi) near the eastern border in December 1939:

“[T]wo Red tanks attacked a Finnish squad caught in lightly wooded terrain near the village. A lieutenant named Huovinen taped five stick grenades together and crawled forward toward the tanks; his friend, First Lieutenant Virkki, intended to provide covering fire, despite the fact that he was carrying only his side arm. At a range of forty meters Virkki stood up and emptied his 9 mm. Lahti automatic at the vehicles’ observation slits. The T-28s replied with a spray of machine-gun fire, and Virkki went down. Those watching felt sure he had been killed. But he had only dropped down to slap another magazine into the butt of his weapon. That done, he jumped up and once more emptied his pistol at the tanks. Altogether this deadly dance step was repeated three times, at which point the Russian tankers seemed to become unnerved. They turned around and clanked back to the village. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Huovinen had been crawling closer to them from the rear and now had his arm cocked to throw the grenade bundle. Just at that moment the tank nearest him put on speed and retreated. He lowered his grenades in astonishment. Surely there were not many instances in modern warfare of tanks being repulsed by pistol fire.”

– William Trotter, A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940

I’m flabbergasted! Gobsmacked! Slack-jawed! Astounded! A pistol against two tanks, and not a scratch!

In school, we’ve been through the major whys and wherefores, but I don’t remember small-scale stories like this. If you’d put this in a fictional story of any kind, I’m not sure I’d believe it. And, yet, it happened to countrymen of mine.

Trotter, William R. A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1991, p. 157.

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Quotes: Gentlemen

Miss Marple made a contribution to the conversation. “Gentlemen,” she said with her old maid’s way of referring to the opposite sex as if it were a species of wild animal, “are frequently not so levelheaded as they seem.”

– Agatha Christie, The Body in the Library

Speaking as a member of that peculiar species, I do not object in the least to Miss Marple’s observation.

Christie, Agatha. The Body in the Library. New York, NY: Black Dog & Leventhal, 1941, p. 103.

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Quotes: Finns Know How to Listen to the Stillness in the Great Forest

After the Finnish centennial in 2017, I’ve been reading outside my usual periods of Finnish history a little, including on the Finnish Winter War (1939-1940, for 105 days against the USSR). Here’s another tidbit that caught my attention:

“Finns know how to listen to the stillness in the great forest; for them it is never absolutely silent, and they can read considerable information about their environment from the sounds of which outsiders are not even aware. Finns, in short, can adapt to their environment because they feel a part of it.”

– William Trotter, A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940

I know people who love water, to be on and in the water, whether a lake or an ocean. I don’t. It’s nice to look at or splash in now and then, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t adore it.

I’m in love with woods.

I need trees to feel whole and at peace, and preferably wild instead of planted and pruned trees. Whether in the cool, clear incandescence of summer nights, or wet, loamy autumn rain, or the crisp, brisk dark of winter, or, finally, the unhurried, budding, green spring, Finnish woods are dear to me.

Trotter, William R. A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1991, p. 145.

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Quotes: Finns Were on Intimate Terms with Winter

After the Finnish centennial in 2017, I’ve been reading outside my usual periods of Finnish history, including on the Finnish Winter War (1939-1940, for 105 days against the USSR).

It’s easy for a modern Finn—at least this modern Finn—to get tired of reading endless takes, almost exclusively by foreigners, condemning the horribleness of the Finnish winter. Like in this excerpt from a book on the Winter War:

“One of the main factors that enabled the Finns to destroy forces much larger than their own was surely rooted in the differing psychologies of the men engaged on either side. To the Finnish soldier, the cold, the snow, the forest, the long hours of darkness were all factors that could be turned to his advantage. To say that the Finns were on intimate terms with winter is to voice an understatement. In Finland winter is the fact of life, and all else—the economy, the culture, the national psychology—is colored by, or derived from, that single overriding reality. The relationship between the Finns and winter constitutes something of a contradiction. On the one hand, winter makes life harsh and lonely and something crude. It is this aspect of living with winter, the cumulative effect of endless subarctic nights, the unearthly silences of the winter landscape, the harsh and marginal quality of rural life, that imparts to the Finnish character that dour and brooding quality that is so hard for foreigners to penetrate.”

– William Trotter, A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940 [original emphasis]

It is true that we stayed poor quite long and urbanised quite fast, pretty much during my parents’ generation, so it’s easy for me to lose perspective. Even as late as 1950s (I believe) it wasn’t unheard of for more remote farms not to have electricity. And our winters are undoubtedly long and dark compared to even central Europe, not to mention the Mediterranean and further south.

What bugs me, though, is that people seem to expect conditions like Siberia or Greenland. Hate to disappoint you, but our climate is greatly tempered by the Gulf stream and it isn’t that different from, say, New England. Another detail I’d like foreigners to really learn is that less than half of the country is arctic, and that means the rest is not. The southern coast is, in fact, part of the temperate broadleaf forest zone which covers most of central Europe, Britain, southern Scandinavia, and southern Russia.

I do grant that the Finnish character hasn’t caught up with the technological development, at least not yet: in general terms, we still tend towards melancholy despite now having world-class cities, transportation, and tech.

Trotter, William R. A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1991, p. 144.

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Quotes: Willful and Obstinate Little Country

After the Finnish centennial in 2017, I’ve been reading outside my usual periods of Finnish history a little, including on the Finnish Winter War (1939-1940, for 105 days against the USSR).

In November 1939, just before hostilities broke out, a Finnish delegation met with the Soviets in Moscow to discuss land transfers and other concessions Russians demanded from Finland. The following tidbit is reportedly from the delegation’s last meeting with Stalin and Molotov.

“But after an hour of futile discussion it was obvious to everyone that the whole business had come to a dead end. Each side bade farewell to the other. Since the Finnish delegates were clearly just as upset by this outcome as the Russians, the final meeting ended with remarkably little display of animosity by anyone. The actual parting, in fact, was almost jovial. Molotov waived and said, ‘Au revoir!’ and Stalin shook hands all around and wished the Finns ‘all the best’. Then he went off to confer with his generals about how best to subdue this willful and obstinate little country.”

– William Trotter, A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940

It’s not clear whether “willful and obstinate little country” is Stalin’s phrasing or Trotter’s. I like it nevertheless—it tells you a very important thing of the Finnish character: as we say, a strong will takes you through a grey stone. 🙂 Or, in this case, it slows down a massive army significantly enough to retain the country’s independence, which none of the other small Baltic states were able to do.

Trotter, William R. A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1991, p. 18.

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Happy New Year 2019!

2018 was a tough one for us, but it’s almost done now—phew!

Two Candles for FIN Independence

May 2019 simply be better for you in any way you’d like to define it.

I’d like to finish with a quote from Executive Director and diversity educator Shay Stewart Bouley‏:

“Centering yourself and treating yourself with the love you give to others allows you to be in the work and have a healthy perspective. Less reactionary. I can extend grace when I’m well. I can see what’s real and what’s not.”

Stay safe.

Image by Eppu Jensen

Announcements from your hosts.

Quotes: [It’s] the Small Things … That Become Precious

“It’s the large things in life that drive us, that we measure ourselves by; but it’s the small things, the daily things that–that become precious to us.”

– Rowan in Rosemary Kirstein’s The Outskirter’s Secret

As I get older, I see more and more truth in this trite-sounding idea. Or you could say that it’s yet another way of putting the concept that life happens in the cracks of bigger things or while waiting for something grand to happen.

Kirstein, Rosemary. The Outskirter’s Secret. New York: Del Ray, 1992, p. 132.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.