| Friday, 14 October 2011 00:00|
Dr. Stanley AronsonOur lives are nurtured by parables and proverbs that give us direction and moral counsel. One such myth is the tale, “For want of a horseshoe, a battle was lost …” And because of that lost battle, a mighty kingdom fell. Thus we learn that little events, inconsequential in themselves, may lead ultimately to major catastrophes.
Historians who seek our cultural heritage in reality rather than in mythology claim that the defeat and assassination of King Richard III on Aug. 22, 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field, formed the basis of the saying (“A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse”). But the saying had actually been recorded long before, in Norman France; and centuries later, Benjamin Franklin included “For want of a nail…” in his “Poor Richard’s Almanack.”
The subtext of all of the many iterations of the story is this: Pay attention to small details and trivial incidents, for they may be precursors to terrible, even cataclysmic, happenings.
But does the converse sometimes happen? Can an incident so inconsequential that it doesn’t appear, even as a footnote, in history texts be instrumental in causing a major event of great and enduring benefit to mankind?
| Friday, 30 September 2011 00:00|
Dr. Stanley AronsonIn the first act of the 1964 musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” the following dialogue takes place. One of the characters asks the rabbi: “Is there a proper blessing for the tsar?”
And the rabbi responds: “A blessing for the tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the tsar – far away from us.”
Embedded within this bit of poignant humor was the deep-seated hope of European Jews, in earlier centuries, that somehow the great leader of their nation – be he a tsar, an emperor or a great prince – would be a benevolent ruler, a protector of the Jews despite being surrounded by an obdurate group of bigoted advisors. It was not unusual then, during the stressful years of the late medieval era, to witness Jewish prayers for the ruler emanating from the overpopulated ghettos – petitions from an oppressed population dependent upon the ruler’s fluctuating favor. And it was also true that many rulers of German principalities employed an occasional Jew as their financial advisor, scholar or physician – thus giving marginal credence to the myth of princely benevolence.
| Tuesday, 20 September 2011 03:25|
Dr. Stanley AronsonBy nature, children are inquisitive souls. Unless their curiosity is either demeaned or suppressed, they will inevitably ask seminal questions that rival those posed by seasoned philosophers.
A four-year-old boy, pondering the origins and purposes of the many members of his multi-generational family, asks: “Why do we have grandparents?”
It is an innocent inquiry, meant to be neither insolent nor disparaging, but one expressing curiosity about the intended purpose, the mission in life, of each member of his extended family. To a middle-class four-year-old, the inter-generational complexities of the world have yet to unfold; and the real people who touch his life are few in number, while their authority within the family hierarchy is unambiguous: two parents (who provide the substantive elements of life), perhaps a sibling or two (for both love and competition), a nursery school teacher, a handful of neighboring youngsters, a nebulous scattering of close relatives and a few neighbors.
This young child might realize that everyone around him or her has a job to go to or work to fulfill. He or she might think, “ But my grandparents come and go at odd times, and they don’t seem to have jobs. Grandma knits and Grandpa plays pinochle; they go to Florida when it snows; and I see them when my parents want to go to a movie and they come to babysit. They are nice people who give me birthday presents and pinch my cheeks when they visit. They say that they are too old when I ask them to play ball with me. Why do I have grandparents?”
| Friday, 02 September 2011 15:47|
Dr. Stanley AronsonGermany’s professional pessimist, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), once declared: “The first 40 years of life give us the text; the next 30 supply the commentary on it.” This suggests two conclusions: First, that anything substantive, anything imbued with youth and vitality, must be undertaken in the first four decades of life with the subsequent years supplying little more than marginal discourse. And second, that the human lifespan is essentially confined to 70 years.
In 1932, the Michigan-born journalist, Walter Pitkin (1878-1953), wrote a seminal text entitled “Life Begins at Forty.” In it, he denied the thought that life essentially ends by age 40. “Today it is half a truth. Tomorrow it will be an axiom.” And by 1937 his book title became a hit song rendered by the great Sophie Tucker. Incidentally, Pitkin, who also wrote “A Short History of Human Stupidity,” lived well beyond 40, as he died in his 75th year.
Absent wars, famine and pestilence, humanity has lived, on average, a progressively increasing span of years. Studies of Paleolithic human remains suggest an average lifespan of about 20 years. In medieval Britain, historians estimate an average longevity of 30 years. By the 19th century, the British were living to about age 36; and in the early decades of the 20th century, to about 50 years. Thus, there was ample reason for Pitkin’s optimism. Life immediately beyond 40 need not therefore be a vision of impending oblivion.