Courage & Everyday Heroes | Charles Wagner

Listen to episode 208 of the Inspirational Living podcast: Admiration & Everyday Heroes | The Heroic Spirit. Adapted from the book “Courage” by Charles Wagner.

Podcast Transcript: The old Roman stoics had this saying among themselves, Nil admirari: “Do not be astonished at anything.” The sense of it is plain. It means that we must not allow ourselves to be over-awed by people or things, to be frightened or disconcerted. We should retain our self-possession, and be master of ourselves, amid all that life throws at us. It is certainly a good rule. And it is in happy contrast to the fickleness of our moods and the neurotic tendencies of our times.

Such a maxim is like a soothing and refreshing bath. After it, one’s eyes are clearer, one’s arms stronger, one’s step more alert. Let us often repeat to ourselves this old saying which has reassured and sustained the courage of so many, and which fulfilled (for those whose device it was) the office of a sure and steadfast friend, who took them by the hand in an hour of trouble, and said, “Be calm, have courage, be wise, and all will come out right!”

There is another way of translating this old Roman adage, one which I wish to protest against because it is so common. Many people have adopted the Nil admirari philosophy, but they translate it, “Let us admire nothing.” If those who conform to the rule thus modified were old men and women, I should not permit myself to attack them. I would say to myself, “They are tired of life; to their old organs, everything seems old; they have lost the faculty of admiring, as they have lost their sense of hearing, or the capacity to sleep, or enjoy a hearty appetite.”

Such is not the case, however. Those who undertake to admire nothing are often young adults or jaded artists and academics. To admire anything seems to them humiliating. They say that it is all very well for children to open their eyes wide and stare at people and things with that inspired and surprised air, which shows that they believe what they see. But we adults must leave that kind of emotion in the nursery, with our security blanket, our last doll, and all the forgotten toys of our tender years.

Post-modern, educated people must not admire anything. Nothing should surprise or excite us. To admire is to be a dupe, to let one-self be taken in. We should not put ourselves in the ridiculous position of “swallowing” anything. To be able to say solemnly, in every situation: “Oh, I know that; that’s an old story;” to be tired of everything before having experienced anything — this is the pose of these sophisticated, modern day cynics…..

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