Friday, July 10, 2015

I've Been Wanting to Re-Read This for Years

So today I finally got my own copy of the autobiography Minority Report by Elmer Rice (published by William Heinemann Ltd, 1963). He's one of my favorite playwrights (my senior performance recital at Jewell was "The Adding Machine" (and I wish I could say I did it justice)). And if you want an older play that is very relevant to the way things are today, I suggest reading "We The People". And a huge dream of mine would be to direct (or at least design a set for) "Street Scene".

Anyway, years ago--seriously, like at least a few yearsvbefore I turned 30--I read this autobiography. I came across something that struck me as so true and so important that I wished I wasn't reading a book checked out from the library, but instead was reading something I could keep and refer to forever. Unfortunately this was before lots of interwebness and the ability to make cool signage that would withstand the wear and tear of time within a pauper's budget.

I kept meaning to check it out from a library again, and make a copy of this section in particular, but I didn't. Mostly because I kept thinking I'd find it somewhere on the internet. And, alas, I also didn't memorize it, and I for sure didn't live by it.

Here it is, the entirety of section 4 of chapter XXII (the final chapter in the book):

"Even more essential to a man's conduct of life than his political and religious beliefs is his personal code of behavior. Here again I put the emphasis upon the personal because of my deep distrust of authoritarian moral prescriptions that are presumed to have universal applicability. Chief among these is the collection of precepts known as The Ten Commandments, generally ascribed to Moses, an obscure but articulate leader of antiquity; his attribution of their authorship to the Deity must surely be regarded as figurative. Though after twenty-five centuries they are still accepted by millions as a complete guide to correct living, it seems to me that even the most cursory examination of the Commandments reveals their inadequacy.

"Only two of the ten offer affirmative recommendations: the injunctions to Sabbath observance and to filial piety. The remaining eight merely state what is nonpermissible. Three of them deal with polytheism, idolatry and blasphemy, the remaining five with murder, adultery, theft, perjury or malicious gossip, and covetousness. In the main, it is a penal rather than a moral code. A man might rigorously obey all the Commandments and yet be a tyrant and a bully, a stingy and cruel husband, a neglectful father, a hardfisted employer, an ill-tempered neighbor, a loudmouthed opinionated boor, a social snob, a provocative chauvinist, a religious bigot and a malignant racist: in short, a despicable human being.

"Certainly I am not alone in believing that viability requires a more fecund soil than this stony bed of bleak negations. Or, to shift the metaphor, if the traffic is to move ahead there must be more green lights than red. I have never before tried to codify the principles of behavior that seem to me aids to constructive living. But since so many others have engaged in this innocent diversion, perhaps I too may be permitted to do so, preserving, of course, the classical decadal pattern. It should be noted that my code contains no absolutes, but merely suggests choices, and that since it is entirely personal, I am not proposing it for universal adoption. Here, then, is my decalogue:

"It is better to live than to die;
to love than to hate;
to create than to destroy;
to do something than to do nothing;
to be truthful than to lie;
to question than to accept;
to be strong than to be weak;
to hope than to despair;
to venture than to fear;
to be free than to be bound.

"However obvious and commonplace these tenets may seem, I can say unhesitatingly that if, throughout my life, I had used them as touchstones for my every thought, word and deed, I would be a better man than I am."
I have to give Mr. Rice a huge "Amen" on that last bit especially.

And maybe I should get back to writing more often.

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