from a generation in which one was what one did, not what one talked about.


Sonja said once that to understand men like Ove and Rune, one had to understand from the very beginning that they were men caught in the wrong time. Men who only required a few simple things from life, she said. A roof over their heads, a quiet street, the right make of car, and a woman to be faithful to. A job where you had a proper function. A house where things broke at regular intervals, so you always had something to tinker with. “All people want to live dignified lives; dignity just means something different to different people,” Sonja had said. To men like Ove and Rune dignity was simply that they’d had to manage on their own when they grew up, and therefore saw it as their right not to become reliant on others when they were adults. There was a sense of pride in having control. In being right. In knowing what road to take and how to screw in a screw, or not. Men like Ove and Rune were from a generation in which one was what one did, not what one talked about.

~ Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove: A Novel


But a man’s life comes full circle; you can learn

english bull terrier,pup,puppy

Laddie was a useful dog on the farm for the next few years, and there were moments when he did good things and we understood each other— once we sorted two ewes that we needed for a show off a hundred others we didn’t need in a field and walked them home. But it was a rare moment, and I always knew he wasn’t as good as he should have been. Sometimes he’d run home when I lost my temper and shouted at him. He lost trust in me. I knew whose fault it was. Mine. I knew that I’d let him down. I look back and think he would have made a good dog if I had known a bit more. But a man’s life comes full circle; you can learn, and do better than your past. I am determined not to make the same mistakes again.

~ James Rebanks, The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape.


Word. Full Stop.


Wrinkles here and there seem unimportant
compared to the Gestalt of the whole person
I have become in this past year.
Somewhere in The Poet and the Donkey Andy
speaks for me when he says,
“Do not deprive me of my age. I have earned it.”

– May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude


And, sometimes, it comes down to the “Third Rule”


My job is simple: get around the fields and feed and shepherd the different flocks of ewes— dealing with any issues that arise.

First rule of shepherding: it’s not about you, it’s about the sheep and the land.

Second rule: you can’t win sometimes.

Third rule: shut up, and go and do the work.

~ James Rebanks, The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape.




My grandfather is asleep in an old brown armchair that is for his use, and his use only. He has read the local newspaper and fallen asleep in it after his midday meal. He is old and tired because he starts early and works too hard for an old man. But I wish he would wake up. Sometimes when he is not working he tells me stories. He loves to tell stories. True stories. This is how he passes on his values. How he tells me who we are. They have morals, these stories.

We don’t give up, even when things are bad.
We pay our debts.
We work hard.
We act decently.
We help our neighbours if they need it.
We do what we say we will do.
We don’t want much attention.
We look after our own.
We are proud of what we do.
We try to be quietly smart.
We take chances sometimes to get on.
We will fail sometimes.
We will be affected by the wider world …
But we hold on to who we are.

It was clear from his stories that we were part of a tradition, that long pre-dated us, and would long exist after us. The stories left you feeling proud to be part of that tradition, but very aware that as individuals we were bound by duty to carry it on, bound to try and live by those values. His main lesson was above all to get along with people; don’t burn your bridges or they will stay down for a long time. Having the same families live and work alongside each other for many centuries created a unique kind of society with special values.

~ James Rebanks, The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape.


Three generations before you are a local


There is an unwritten code of honour between shepherds here. I remember my grandfather telling me about his friend buying some sheep privately from another farmer for what he thought was a fair price. Weeks later he attended some sheep sales and realized that he had got the sheep very cheap indeed, too cheap, about £ 5 less each than their market value. He felt that this was unfair to the seller because he’d trusted him. He didn’t want to be greedy, or perhaps as important, to be seen to be greedy. So he sent the farmer a cheque for the difference and apologized. But the farmer who’d sold them then politely refused to cash it, on the grounds that the original deal was an honourable one. They’d shaken hands on it. Stalemate.

The only way out was to go back the next year and buy his sheep and pay over the odds to make up for it, so he did. Neither of these men cared remotely about “maximizing profit” in the short-term in the way a modern business person in a city would; they both valued their good names and their reputations for integrity far more highly than making a quick buck. If you said you would do a thing, you’d better do it. My grandfather and father would go out of their way to do good deeds for their neighbours because goodwill counted for a lot. If anyone bought a sheep from us and had the slightest complaint about it, we took it back and repaid them or replaced it with another. And most people did the same.

Fathers’ names are interchangeable with those of the sons, and surnames with the names of the farms. The name of your farm tells other farmers here as much about you as your surname. There might be twenty farmers with the same surname, so it is immediately followed by the name of the farm for clarification. Sometimes the name of the farm kind of replaces the surname in general discourse. I met a man in a pub recently and he knew my grandfather—“ You’ll be a fair man if you are half the man he was,” he said sternly, then bought me a drink, the accrued interest on some unspoken good turn my grandfather had done for him decades earlier. Anyone new to the community or common would be watched carefully until they showed themselves to have integrity and play by the rules. They say you have to be here for three generations before you are a local (people laugh when they say that, but it carries a lot of truth).

~ James Rebanks, The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape.


This whole thing is not about heroism. It’s about decency.


Roger Cohen, NY Times: Mow The Law:

[…] I am less interested in the inspirational hero than I am in the myriad doers of everyday good who would shun the description heroic; less interested in the exhortation to “live your dream” than in the obligation to make a living wage.

In Camus’ book, “The Plague,” the doctor at the center of the novel, Bernard Rieux, battles pestilence day after day. It is a Sisyphean task. At one point he says, “I have to tell you this: This whole thing is not about heroism. It’s about decency. It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.”

Asked what decency is, he responds: “In general, I can’t say, but in my case I know that it consists of doing my job.” Later, he adds, “I don’t think I have any taste for heroism and sainthood. What interests me is to be a man.”

In the everyday task at hand, for woman or man, happiness lurks.

Don’t miss entire op-ed column by Roger Cohen, Mow The Law

Aye Aye

This idea is simple.
We’re updating the guidelines to add:

“Avoid gratuitous negativity.”

Critical thinking is good; shallow cynicism, on the other hand, adds nothing of value to the community. It is unpleasant to read and detracts from actual work. If you have something important but negative to say, that’s fine, but say it in a respectful way. Negativity isn’t the problem–gratuitous negativity is. By that we mean negativity that adds nothing of substance to a comment. This includes all forms of meanness.

~ Sam Altman, New Hacker News Guideline @ Y Combinator Posthaven


There’s right and wrong, not just better or worse.


Frank Bruni in the NY Times writesWeary of Relativity:

“SAY anything critical about a person or an organization and brace for this pushback: At least he, she or it isn’t as bad as someone or something else.


Set the bar low enough and all blame is deflected, all shame expunged. Choose the right points of reference and behold the alchemy: naughty deeds into humdrum conformity. Excess into restraint. Sinners into saints.


Like I said, you can set the bar anywhere you want.

And you can justify almost anything by pointing fingers at people who are acting likewise or less nobly.


Everything’s relative.

Except it’s not.

There are standards to which government, religion and higher education should be held. There are examples that politicians and principled businesspeople should endeavor to set, regardless of whether their peers are making that effort. There’s right and wrong, not just better or worse.

And there’s a word for recognizing and rising to that: leadership. We could use more of it.”

Don’t miss Bruni’s entire Op-Ed essay: Weary of Relativity

Image Credit

Humility is scarce and mediocrity flows from every direction


Q: Do you still not own a cellphone?

Herzog: I’m the only thinking person I know without one. I don’t want to be available at all times. Permanent connectivity isn’t my thing; I have always needed moments of quiet solitude for myself. There’s a Chinese poem from the Tang dynasty about someone describing a boat journey along the Yellow River and leaving his friend behind, a monk on a mountain, in the knowledge that they probably won’t see each other or have any contact for years. This man’s return, decades later, has an indescribable substance and depth. Compare this to standing in line at the airport, chatting on your cellphone to your loved one, who is waiting in the car park. There is too much shallow contact in our lives. I prefer to be face to face; I want the person I’m communicating with to be so close I can put my hand on their shoulder. Text messaging is the bastard child handed to us by the absence of reading.

Q: You use the Internet. [Read more…]

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