One of the potential outcomes of a well considered philosophy is surely the development of a personal code by which one may live one’s life honourably and thus contentedly. A code which enables one to face any situation, no matter how challenging or onerous, with dignity and courage of conviction even in the face of grievous personal danger. A code which is sustainable for richer or for poorer and irrespective of personal loss. To live by such a code, applying it in all situations, is to discover the key to true happiness. Without such a code, one may never be truly happy, no matter how much wealth or power one accumulates and surrounds oneself with.
Wise men have understood this truism since ancient times, and yet, such an understanding seems to have become largely lost among the hurly burly of modern life where we are constantly encouraged to prize wealth and celebrity above all else. Our teachings have strayed from the concept of humanity to an equation which pairs personal success with the acquisition of wealth and power rather than with understanding and compassion. Consequently, we encourage an exclusive, competitive social environment which shuns integrity and which, by definition, must constantly exploit its own members. But those who embrace and thrive within such a model will never attain true happiness or the sense of inner contentment that a more noble existence may provide.
This is hardly a revelation, as the fundamental premise has been reflected in many works, religious, philosophical and anecdotal. Furthermore, we see the concept emerge in both humans and animals, sometimes under extreme stress and, occasionally, within everyday life. There is a component within our complex psychological constitution that seeks expression by caring for others and maintaining integrity in all that we do. But, too often, we suppress this component in favour of material gain or vain social recognition. However, both of these prizes are ephemeral. They do not complement our inner soul and we cannot take them with us when we depart from this Earth. Furthermore, they do not lead to the development of the complete human being, the attainment of which state should be our aspiration. Nor do they lead to contentment and true happiness.
The story of King Arthur and his Knights of The Round Table nicely encapsulate this need for integrity, courage and the will to do good for others. The word of a true Knight is his bond and he will only ever deal fairly and honourably, even with his opponents. Indeed, he would readily die before compromising that integrity. Furthermore, his daily code will be one of courtesy and kindness towards all whom he encounters, and he will have a special respect for women, offering them his protection at every opportunity. He will give freely of his own possessions in order to assist others less fortunate than himself. To him, such thoughts and deeds are an essential element of life, as he understands only too well that, without them, his life has no meaning. Consequently, he cannot be bought by promises of gold or celebrity as such factors are an anathema to him.
Some may scoff and decry such notions as only existing within the realms of mythology, and yet, modern day Knights do exist. They may be few and far between but they are there. You may not have noticed them as they will not be engaged in self promotion and may only appear when events necessitate such a revelation. Most of the time, they are ignored by those consumed by avarice and position. There are lady ‘Knights’ as well - King Arthur may have called them ‘Angels’ who administer their gentle kindnesses to those in need, always without thought of recognition or reward. But Knights and Angels are an endangered species. They are endangered by our relentless worship of material gain, power, position and celebrity at the expense of humanity. They are endangered by our abject refusal to teach morals within our various educational models. They are endangered by the pretence and deception of modern politics.
Consequently, we need to protect this endangered species and fight for its survival and further flowering within our world. The key to the preservation of Knights and Angels lies in education and teaching by example. Youngsters need to have a full appreciation of history and humanity, understanding where and why both our brightest and darkest moments have occurred. They need to be taught that kindness and compassion are not archaic relics of a bygone world, but an essential element of modern life. They must understand that integrity, courage and generosity of spirit are the keystones of life and the building blocks of inner contentment. Furthermore, we should demonstrate all of these things by example and provide the younger generation with the tools they need with which to create their own code to live by. Their Excalibur must be education, and we must hold it forth from the lake of avarice and vanity.
- by Julian Ashbourn