Shakespeare’s wisdom

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”- William Shakespeare

In the past few years I’ve been through some painful experiences. Many people and circumstances have brought me down. Based on these experiences, I began to question if there was any goodness left in the world. And in my darkest times, I’ve found a wisdom in Shakespeare’s words that has helped me through the pain. There’s no doubt in my mind that Shakespeare was a genius. There are so many amazing lessons about life in his works that it’s difficult to only choose one that speaks to me. However, this quote in particular has reminded me of the direction I have chosen to take in a chaotic world where truth is hard to find. It reminds me of the importance of kindness, forgiveness, and respect for others as well as for myself. This is not an advice piece. It is more so an opportunity for me to share what I think is a noble pursuit in life and what I’ve been reminded of through Shakespeare’s words.

“Love all.”

This sounds like one of those nice things to strive for that’s entirely impossible in certain situations. For instance, how absolutely difficult it is to love those who hurt us. I can’t imagine myself going up to some of the people who caused me pain and giving them a hug or telling them I love them. And I think Shakespeare himself would not recommend this behaviour. Instead, if someone hurt us, we should let go of feelings of resentment towards them and regard them simply as a fellow human on this journey through life who doesn’t necessarily have all of the answers and who may have chosen a path that is perhaps self-serving and therefore not considerate of others. If we see that we are all imperfect and don’t always act how we would have liked to, we will be more able to forgive those who hurt us because we’ll see that they too are imperfect, perhaps in a different way than us. And does this mean we should always forgive people? It depends on the circumstances and if it’s a healthy decision for us. But in my view, forgiveness can be done in a passive way, where we don’t actually give the person a second chance if they don’t deserve it, but we forgive them for our own sake. We “love” them (in a loose sense of the word) for our own emotional wellbeing. “Loving” them or not giving them power over our emotions takes less effort than hating, and is without a doubt the better choice. But this is not just a quote that reminds us to love our enemies; it is also a quote that reminds us to love everyone. Look at the sheer amount of hatred in this world. People seem to hate a lot of people that they don’t even know just because they’re somehow different from them. Whether it’s a difference in religion, race, opinion, or even clothing choice, the hatred people have on this planet is astounding. What does all of this negativity accomplish? What has it ever accomplished? Bullying. War. Terrible events that separate us from our own species. We are social creatures. We survive on this planet with the help of not only those who are close to us, but total strangers too. We need each other. It’s all been said before, but instead of looking at our differences as something that separates us, we should see ourselves as a unique piece of a larger puzzle. We’re all in this together. Love is the most powerful tool we can use to help each other out. If only we could all make the effort to love a little more, how vastly different our planet would be.

“Trust a few.”

In several of Shakespeare’s plays, such as Hamlet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar, betrayal is a reoccurring theme. Shakespeare seemed to believe that not everyone can be trusted, not even those closest to us. Some may say this is a highly pessimistic view of human interaction and relations, but I have found that this is sound advice. When you first meet someone and you’re getting to know them, they will most likely try to show you the best version of themselves – the person that they want the world to think they are. This is perhaps how we all act in certain circumstances, such as in front of our teachers. But when you’re building a personal relationship with someone, whether it’s a friendship or a romantic relationship, or when you already have a personal relationship with someone, you hope that they are being who they truly are with you and not fabricating themselves. However, this is hardly ever the case. Sometimes people don’t have malicious intentions when they play themselves up to be something they’re not. Perhaps they’re insecure or they want to impress people without an ulterior motive. But other times, I have found that people who pretend to be something they’re not do it because they want something from you, and deceit is their way of trying to get it. Given this, it’s important to be careful with who we let into our lives and who we begin to trust. For me, this hasn’t always been easy. I tend to believe people are who they appear to be because I myself don’t pretend to be something I’m not. It’s a naïve approach that has led me to a lot of pain, and is something I have been working to improve. I don’t always trust people easily, but sometimes I want to believe they are who they claim to be despite signs that they might not be that person. It is absolutely vital to shield yourself when entering new friendships or relationships, as well as in your existing ones. Time and experience will teach you who you can and cannot trust. And respecting yourself means walking away from those who prove to you that you can’t trust them. Furthermore, when Shakespeare said “trust a few,” perhaps he meant it in terms of more than just personal relationships. People try to sell their ideas and perspectives as much as they try to sell a best version of themselves. Whether it’s the media, news, social media, or other sources of information, we are often catapulted into a flurry of ideas, some which are more harmful or untrue than others. We must carefully sort through these ideas in order to determine which ones are worth buying into, and which ones have true merit. Not all ideas are true, and not all ideas are respectable. Some can be dangerous and others are just there for convenience or comfort. It is hard to define what makes a good idea, especially when living in an age where new information is thrown at us from several directions, as Shakespeare may have found in his own time. It is my belief that one must always exercise a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to information. We should ask ourselves why we have chosen to believe certain ideas. Is it because the idea/information is true, or is it because we want it to be true? Are we only supporting it because others seem to be supporting it, or do we honestly see intrinsic value in it? Have we done enough research to support the idea or are there still doubts in our mind? Is this idea morally sound? Ideas are powerful, and because of this, we should question our sources of knowledge and information, and question the information itself.

“Do wrong to none.”

Perhaps this seems like the most obvious advice in the quote. We have all at some point been told to strive to be nice to others. Do not lie, do not cheat, do not seek revenge, etc. These are all pieces of advice we may have received from parents, schools, religion, and other sources. But how many of us actually strive to be good to our fellow human beings? Perhaps this is going to sound entirely pessimistic on my part, but it seems that people are often so focused on themselves and their own needs that they are willing to neglect being nice to others, or sometimes, purposefully do negative things towards them. In the past few years in particular I’ve witnessed people acting negatively towards others and going about their lives as if it doesn’t matter. I’m not sure why this is. Have we entered a new era of extreme selfishness where our actions are purely for our own benefit? Even if we take the moral aspect to this out, practically speaking, this hardly seems sustainable. How are we supposed to survive as a species if all we are focused on is doing right to ourselves? Imagine the repercussions on a larger scale if people stopped caring about each other, and only cared about themselves. Would we even have hospitals or schools? Is it really that hard to picture humanity heading towards this path when every day we see people failing to care about others? I’m often surprised when I see someone who holds the door for a stranger, or gives some change, food, or a kind word to someone who asks for it, or gets up from their seat on the bus and offers it to someone else. I shouldn’t be surprised; these should be common occurrences. But I see people not caring about others more so than I see them caring. We’re all so busy, so hurried, so self-consumed. And in failing to do right to others, are we not doing wrong to them? However, sometimes we not only fail to do right, we blatantly do wrong. Negativity usually breeds more negativity even though this hardly ever solves things. But it’s almost as if it’s a natural human instinct to respond to people’s negativity towards us with our own towards them. For instance, on social media there are so many times that I see people (often strangers) responding to each other’s comments with angry, hurtful words. In these cases, it seems like people are so eager to prove their point that they’ll try to take anyone down who questions it. But in my view, it is the person who responds without insulting someone else or being angry towards them and who focuses on proving their point who usually makes the better case. Doing wrong to others, in this case, and others, does not help you in any way.

Thus, I will continue to strive towards these principles because I believe that they are universal and not bound by time or circumstance. Shakespeare’s wisdom has helped me many times in my life and the lessons woven into his work will continue to affect generations to come.

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