Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What E'er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part: Perfection In Our Own Sphere

     John Allan was an architect in the 19th and early 20th century with a penchant for bas relief stone sculpture.  One of his stones was carved for a house he built near Stirling Castle in Scotland, and features a grid of geometric figures and the inscription "What e'er thou art, act well thy part"; a line from Shakespeare. 

     This injunction prods us towards perfection.  Perfection is indeed a lofty goal; one seemingly unattainable.  And it is true that achieving perfection in one fell swoop is practically impossible, and such a daunting prospect that not one man in ten thousand will even try.  However, perfection is possible, if we do not try to exceed the limits of our own sphere.  What do I mean by this?  Simply that overall perfection is made up of perfection in small things. 
     Returning to the stone for a minute:  The grid of shapes, which may seem meaningless at first, is actually a magic square.  If you total the sides of each shape, you arrive at a numeric figure for each box of the grid, and when these are summed - horizontally, vertically, or diagonally - the result will always be 18.
                                                                5     10      3
                                                                4       6      8

                                                                9       2      7

     This is clever, but what clue does it offer us for attaining perfection?  In order for a magic square to function, each number must be in its proper place.  if one number is out of place the whole thing fails.  The hand in the first panel cautions us to take care.  Each figure is simple, but must be worked out correctly. 
     Think of each compartment in the grid as an aspect of your life, great - like the 10 - or small - like the 2.  If you contemplate your life this way you will most likely find that there are already many things that you do perfectly on a daily basis.  They may be very small, but that does not diminish their importance.  When you feel that one part of your life is under control, move on to another, striving to be perfect in that small thing as well.  As you proceed, rectifying and refining each facet, you will find the whole of your life becoming more and more closely aligned with the desired perfect sum.
     You may, of course, never attain literal perfection, and that is no shameful matter.  Yet the man who struggles mightily and falls short can still hold up his head with pride and say "I fell short of perfection"; far more than the slothful man who says "I achieved mediocrity."  
     A large stumbling block for us is our perception of what perfection is.  When we think of being perfect, we often have in mind an ideal image that in no way truly reflects who we are as individuals.  The image is more likely to be a composite of figures culled from childhood stories, morality lessons, and wishful thinking.  But it is most important to recall that the sum of the magic square is far less important that the process that leads to that sum.  Likewise, it matters little if you are a king or a chimney-sweep:  What matters is what you do within your own sphere, your area of influence, your own person, to endeavor to make the small parts of your life perfect so that they more closely add up to a perfect sum.


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  2. I appreciate your thoughts. True words to live by. I especially liked when you said "But it is most important to recall that the sum of the magic square is far less important that the process that leads to that sum". This is a philosophy that I have tried to live my life by.

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