New book !
Treasure Your Leisure
The book explains the importance and the practice of leisure in our lives. The prevalent work ethic has taught us the importance and value of hard work as justification of our existence and of all the formation we ourselves have received from society and are in conscience obliged to return to it in service and help. This is right, but we have neglected the importance and value of leisure also in our lives for social communication, formation, rest, gathering of new strength for continued work. The right proportion of work and leisure is essential for a balanced life.
OTIUM CUM DIGNITATE - 5
HE RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY - 9
MANNA ON SATURDAY -14
THE LORD OF THE SABBATH - 20
GOLF ON YOM KIPPUR - 36
JESUS PLAYS THE FLUTE - 54
BOMBING ON SUNDAY - 64
TEARS FOR A MEDAL - 69
THE COTTON HARVEST - 77
PURE MATHEMATICS - 82
THE HOLLOW IN THE VESSEL - 89
FROM ALLEGRO TO ADAGIO - 97
PLAYING MOZART AT THE PIANO - 101
THE HOLY SPIRIT CHANGES HIS MIND - 106
THE CATWALK - 114
GAME ADDICTION - 122
CHEATING AT PATIENCE - 134
LEISURE AND THE CRISIS - 139
WALKING TOGETHER - 148
YOU DESERVE IT - 156
THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST! - 162
OTIUM CUM DIGNITATE
I smiled when I read the visiting card of my Finnish friend. I knew his name, which was clearly printed on the card with his surname after it, Mikko Helkama, and I expected to see now under it a line with his profession, his occupation, his business, his labour identity to justify his existence before society and before the world. And, right enough, there was such a line below his name on his card. There were only three words. And they were in Latin. Surprise.
I did know by then that Finnish people, however far their land from Rome and their language from Latin, are quite conversant with Latin, but I did not expect a Latin quotation on a Finnish visiting card. Even less so as a job definition. Not even a Latin teacher would describe his profession in Latin. But there it was on the visiting card of my Finnish friend. Surprise.
My surprise grew when I realised that those three Latin words were exactly the title I had given many years ago to the thesis I had submitted in my youth as a university student in Salamanca at the end of a course that mirrored “The Greats” of Oxford University in its study of Greek and Latin classics to the extent that our examination papers were sent to us from Oxford. The course studied the parallel literary figures Homer-Virgil, Demosthenes-Cicero, Sophocles-Euripides, leading us to analyse their language, discover their culture, live in their world, dream their dreams. During all that course I mentally lived in Athens (which I only visited in the flesh much later in life), did not even know there was a war being waged in Europe (the Second World War) as we lived in a religious cloister without newspapers or radio or any contact with humankind at large. Meanwhile I did travel in spirit and imagination to Ithaca to wait for Odysseus’s return, I conquered Rome, I convinced the Senate and swayed the Agora, I sympathised with Oedipus and wept for Antigone. For me, classical Greek heroes like Achilles and Hector were more real on the battlefield than World War II generals like Rommel or Montgomery, and the capture of Troy affected me more than the fall of Paris.
That was where, given my inward vocational inclination for the written and the spoken word, I became youthfully fascinated by the first and best of Roman orators, the author of treatises on themes as modern as public speaking, friendship, humour, old age; “the first ever prose writer on earth”, as he has been justly called: Cicero. I learned his speeches by heart, recited his paragraphs, imitated his gestures, impersonated his character. His had been a fruitful life as a politician, as a speaker, and as a writer. After studies in Athens and travels through the Roman Empire, after obtaining all public posts from praetor to senator “each in its year”, that is, as he was reaching the minimum age required for the job, after winning court cases, unveiling plots, shining in society, ruling the country, when he reached his fiftieth year, Cicero confided to his friend Atticus: “It is time I begin to love myself.” (Letter Ad Atticum, iv, 5). He retired from politics, devoted himself to reading, thinking, writing, cultivating the human spirit in the elegance of his thought and in the brilliancy of his word. It was for this new stage in his life that he adopted the motto he had been nurturing in his mind through the years of his feverish activity, and which he now could make into reality in the fullness of his maturity. The words were in Latin: Otium cum dignitate. Leisure with dignity.
“I have always held those men and women to be the happiest in the world who, after having obtained glory and honours (dignity) have been able to consecrate their lives to the pursuit of the arts of the spirit (leisure); those who can combine leisure with dignity.” (De Oratore, I, 1)
“Which is, then, our life ideal, the aim and goal of all our efforts? That which was always the greatest and highest aim in life for all honest people, men and women of noble birth and righteous conduct: leisure with dignity.” (Pro Sestio, 98)
Otium cum dignitate. Leisure with dignity. That was the summary of Cicero’s own life, and that was, in consequence, the title I had chosen in my youth for my Ph.D. thesis on him. Short and meaningful. And those were exactly the three Latin words my Finnish friend had chosen to define his place in society on his visiting card. He had retired from the business he had skilfully conducted through years, and was now withdrawing well in time to dedicate himself to the high and noble pursuit of intellectual leisure in the spirit. Just like Cicero.
Otium cum dignitate
That was all. That was the whole text on the visiting card of my Finnish friend. Two words, and a whole culture behind them. Those two key words, “leisure” and “dignity”, have their own background in Latin. Leisure has nothing to do with idleness or laziness, and dignity is nobility and gravity, with no shadow of showing off or feeling proud in any way. Dignity is reached through hard work, effort, responsibility, efficiency, excellence, perfection, achievement. Without dignity there is no leisure. They have to go together to balance each other, to complement each other, to fulfil each other. Latin leisure was quite different from present-day leisure, and Greek leisure was wider away still. The word for leisure in Greek is scholé, and that opens up for us a whole new panorama for our search. From scholé comes obviously “school”, and is not school the opposite of leisure? Is not school the opposite of holidays? Does not school imply classes and courses and examinations and failures? Not for a Greek. And that is the point here.
Leisure for the Greek was freeing themselves from manual work in order to dedicate themselves to intellectual development. Leisure was the luxury of reading and writing when others had to plough and to sow. It was the faculty to listen to Plato instead of having to go and sell tomatoes in the marketplace. It was the school for intellectual refinement, the culture workshop, the “research and development” programme of their times, the laboratory of thought, the fine arts factory. Leisure was the soul of Greek and Roman civilisation. The training of the spirit. The liberal arts. The classical culture. And so, the leisure deserved after a long life of service to the country and to society was the highest ideal for a Greek and a Roman. Cicero’s ideal. The title of my Ph.D. thesis. The profession on my friend’s visiting card. The subject of this book. After so many years I had come round to discover again the vital point. A prophecy framed in Salamanca and fulfilled in Helsinki. Otium cum dignitate. Leisure with dignity.