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“Calm’s not life’s crown, though calm is well” (Matthew Arnold).
IF OUR INWARD CHARACTER IS ONE THAT CAN BE CALLED “TRANQUIL,” THEN WE HAVE SOMETHING TO ENJOY. Our individual characters are the result of our choices, of course, and we may not have made choices that have led us in the direction of tranquility. If we haven’t, perhaps we ought to consider doing so. A calm, peaceful state of mind is not the highest goal that should claim our attention, but rightly considered, it’s an honorable thing, worthy of our pursuit.
We say that it’s not the highest goal in life simply because there are many things that would be worth sacrificing our tranquility for. For example, suppose a house is burning down and there are young children inside who need to be rescued. No one in his right mind would say, “Well, I’d like to get involved, but I prefer not to disturb my peace of mind.” No, we would gladly sacrifice the feeling of tranquility in that moment in order to achieve a higher goal. So peace of mind is like any other kind of peace: what we want is peace, but not peace at any price. Feelings are fine, but life involves a number of considerations more important than how we feel at the present moment.
Come to think of it, one of the things that’s more important than the enjoyment of tranquility is being an agent who influences others to enjoy that quality. We live in times that are agitated, and most of those whom we meet need a greater measure of calmness in their lives. The best reason for pursuing tranquility ourselves is so that we can have a peaceful influence on those we love.
There is no possibility of being tranquil, however, if we look for it in the wrong places. It doesn’t come from diets, exercises, self-help seminars, faddish lifestyles, or hip philosophies: it comes from having characters that are aligned with true-north principles. As La Rochefoucauld said, “When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.” In a world of disturbing ups and downs, tranquility must come from truths that don’t change.
“To live in the presence of great truths and eternal laws, to be led by permanent ideals — that is what keeps a man patient when the world ignores him, and calm and unspoiled when the world praises him” (Honoré de Balzac).