September 24, 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On

The manly man is never timid. Timidity is like living half a life, or less, for it inhibits action, and men must act. It also clouds thinking with trifles and obsessions, cluttering up the intellect: men must also think. Timidity is a euphemism for fear. It requires the euphemism because timidity is fear of life itself. It is a bedfellow of shame.

Naturally, one must not ride roughshod over politeness. All those moments of inaction and indecisiveness in Jane Austen’s corpus occur for good reason. But they do not ultimately put permanent hindrances before her heroes, for where they do, it amounts to character flaw. The impolite man acts without thinking, and duly makes trouble. He is the opposite of timid: the bull at the gate; the Tuppy Glossop, if you will. The bookish man thinks without acting, and is duly ignored. He does not enter the world sufficiently to be concerned with such things. A well-measured dose each of consideration and execution, laced with a healthy portion of confidence, makes for the ideal type.

I am given pause to reflect on such things as I re-immerse into a culture that is, to be absolutely exact, strangely familiar. Like the jarring dissonance caused by two musical notes whose harmony is only out of alignment by the slightest fraction, we are caught off guard most precisely when we are closest to comfort. In many respects I am at home: I know where I am, with whom I am dealing, and what to expect. But just as car crashes tend to happen close to home, all the securities accompanying knowledge of the where, the who and the what can be lost in an instant when, say, exiting from the wrong end of a station; finding construction on your route home; meeting someone with whom you have no common language; or being told by Telekom to buy your own bloody modem. You get the picture.

Some years ago, these kinds of things might have affected me. Uncertainty, if not met with resolve, is met only with withdrawal or with alcohol, and these do not make for safe ports in stormy weather. I have, in my years of emotional maturity, come to realise that awkward situations do not become less awkward for being ignored. Internal upheaval can only be redressed by coming to terms with it. It has become a cliché to invoke the spirit of the Blitz, and some may find it belittling to that spirit to print the words ‘keep calm and carry on’ on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs. Still, it is precisely this will to continue that should activate us, under all circumstances. Life is not to be feared, nor to be passively observed. Live is to be embraced, and to be lived.


  1. Good doctor,

    I applaud your remarks, but I have two additions. You are too modest when you detect a kinship between timidity and fear - there is no euphemism, timere is to fear in Latin. It could not be more obvious: to call timid people anything but cowards is to suggest they have no duties in dereliction of which they find themselves...

    Also, the spirit of the blitz, I believe, ought to be constantly invoked - though not belittled - Britons are weak men and have been rendered miserable by the last half-century or so. They did not seem like much before WWII either, although that proved somewhat deceptive. But men will never amount to much if they do not see to what they must amount and how one goes about doing it. For the latter, something akin to heroes may be necessary, but for the former, shame will do: were Britons shamed for their weakness, they would shun it. What except the blitz shows that men in England need not hold their manhoods cheap?

    Keep calm and carry on is a very moderate statement. It requires action and resignation at once. I believe it is meant to remove the basis of irrational fears and irrational hopes, to put it somewhat oddly. It is what we all must do and what good laws require of us, finally it should be what circumstances allow.

    Very pleased to have heard the phrase again,
    I remain yours,

  2. Excellent words and jolly good sentiments. I most particularly agree about Tuppy Glossop!

  3. Gussie old boy! Glad you could find time to tear yourself away from the newts. Pip pip!


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