Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: What bad behaviours or choices have come back to haunt me?
The associated Daily Stoic meditation today was about the Stoic Seneca, who was tutor to Nero, widely reviled by posterity for enabling Nero’s tyranny, and paid with his life. So the choices specifically referenced are ones that go against one’s core values, against those pangs of conscience warning not to do a thing–where you decide to ignore what both your heart and head tell you is right, saying “I’m sure it will be fine.” These are the kind of choices that can make good people complicit in evil, or at least regretting not following one’s moral and ethical compass.
I got caught cheating on an exam once. It was during my first year at Ohio State, in a difficult chemistry class. I’d always been at the top of my class–or at least, firmly in A territory. College was harder, and I was stressed about it. So I found a way to write some crib notes onto my calculator (and by “on to”, I mean physically on the calculator.). And I was caught. I had to take the exam with a loaner calculator and then had to meet with the professor right afterwards. Somehow, I talked my way out of it (and since I hadn’t been able to take my calculator in with me, I didn’t actually end up able to use the “notes.”) I promised it would never happen again. And then, on the way home, I was so distressed that I got into a minor fender-bender. So, in a way, payback caught up with me quickly. You know what? It never did happen again.
Evening: As far as behaviours go, the one I came to regret the most was around careless eating, and that took a lot of retraining to overcome. I wish I’d been able to do more to help my mother, but I was away when she began to decline, and by the time I was in a position to help, she was too far gone for me to do much more than look on helplessly. I do wish I’d cared more about practicing music and had been able to continue with it, but that was more a matter a choice of priorities. Sometimes I do wonder how my life would have been different had I decided not to stay in Columbus and attend Ohio State (partially to stay with my high-school boyfriend), but the outcomes of my years at OSU were so positive that I’ve never regretted that decision. The same goes with my choice to not continue in academia and instead settle for a more steady source of income. Again, tradeoffs–but I’ve never considered it an ethically unsound choice, just a pragmatic (and occasionally, soul-sucking) choice. I do have a tendency to go with the safe bet–I’m not much of a risk-taker. The result is that while I have not had a wildly successful life in terms of finances, or reputation in my field, I do believe I have had a positive impact in the world, at least among my friends, and maybe a few cats.
I’ve been doing a weekly Shostakovich Deep Cut post over on Reddit (the last one was the Schumann Cello Concerto reorchestration) and I decided tonight it was time to research the next one. Shostakovich wrote an exceedingly popular song in the early 30s called “Song of the Counterplan” (for a movie called Counterplan) that he reused several times during his career (including in Moscow, Cheryomushki. ) But I remembered that the song had been adapted for something in the West, so a little bit of Google-fu and I found an article on the song. It had been adapted two or three times, first in France, then in the UK twice, the second time as a “Song of the United Nations” (that is, the Allied nations in WW2), and then incorporated as the finale of the movie Thousands Cheer, which is an MGM vaudeville-esque morale booster starring a whole cast of stars, including Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, among others. I found the entire movie on YouTube, and lacking the time tonight to watch the whole thing (which I will, because of my general interest in WW2-era entertainment), I skipped right to the ending, where Kathryn Grayson belts out this hopeful tune about the future of the world, backed by an international men’s chorus and a full symphony orchestra. The score was nominated for an Oscar (it didn’t win). Interestingly enough, the fact that the song had been written by Shostakovich was not forgotten–when he arrived at the American Congress of Scientific and Arts Workers in Defense of Peace in New York in 1949, he was greeted with a chorus of 25,000 people singing it. Given how profoundly uncomfortable he was on that particular trip, I wonder what he made of that?
So here’s the movie–incidentally, hosted on a Russian site, which is why it won’t fully embed. If you want to see the Shostakovich bit, it’s in the last seven minutes or so.