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“Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind” (Leonardo da Vinci).
A VIGOROUS MIND IS AN ASSET. To see why that’s true, we need to understand what the word means. It comes from a Latin verb which meant “to be lively,” and it conveys the idea of “active strength.” When we say that a person is vigorous physically, we mean that he or she is energetic and agile in the exercise of their strength, and similarly, when we speak of a person’s mental vigor, we refer to the active use of their mind. A vigorous mind is a lively mind. It’s one that is eager to work and inquisitive and courageous. A mind like that is an asset, and it needs to be nourished and kept active.
Think with vigor. We often get poor results from our thinking because we’re so lazy about it. Not having been fed properly and exercised regularly, our minds have lost their childhood vigor. But that’s a problem that can be corrected. We can start thinking more actively.
Speak with vigor. Whether it’s written or spoken, language often has to be used vigorously in order to be effective. Yes, there is a time and place for soft words, but I would say that our communications fail more often from being too bland than from being too vigorous.
Live with vigor. I wholeheartedly agree with Justin Wilson, the Louisiana comedian and cook, who was known for saying that everybody ought to live with “great vigorosity,” and also with Emeril Lagasse, another great Louisiana cook, who always urged us to “Kick it up!” As we pass through this world, we don’t want, as somebody said, to fail to taste the fruit for lack of courage to shake the tree.
None of us has an infinite supply of vigor, however, and so we have to make some choices. We can’t say a vigorous “Yes!” to some things if we haven’t said a definite “No!” to other things. And maybe that’s where a good part of vigor comes from anyway: the ability to focus and the willingness to make a choice. If we’re going to follow Justin Wilson’s advice and live with “great vigorosity,” we’re going to have to make up our minds who we are and what we won’t do.
“Men must be decided on what they will not do, and then they are able to act with vigor in what they ought to do” (Mencius).