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Out of the Humidor

CA Readers
From the Print Edition:
Michael Jordan, July/August 2005

(continued from page 2)

The dominant school of thought among educated people in classic antiquity was Stoicism, which taught how to achieve ataraxia—peace of mind—in an uncertain and fraught world. You have little control over what happens in the world around you, the Stoics said, so you must accept with grace and resignation what it does to you. But you can govern your own emotions, and if you master them you will free yourself from anxiety. One aspect of the Stoic outlook is given succinct modern expression by Joseph Krutch: "Security depends not upon how much you have, as upon how much you can do without."

It is rational to take thought for one's safety. In England, we say, "Tis folly to bolt the door with a boiled carrot." But too much concern with safety—too little preparedness to accept that the very act of living is risky—is counterproductive in too many ways. To make everything yield to considerations of safety is to invite a different risk: that of living without opportunity, progress, or growth or experience. "The most beaten paths are certainly the surest," said André Gide, "but do not hope to scare up much game on them."

This applies to personal life, not so much matters as airline safety, where no risks are acceptable. In personal life, risks are the motors of advance, especially in emotional and intellectual respect, both of which are aided and abetted by fine cigars. To love is to risk, to try new ideas and methods is to risk, to be open to new friendships, new experiences, new challenges and changes all involve risk. The costs are occasional failure and the likelihood of suffering, but the prizes are great. Ask Winston Churchill. Ask George Burns. Ask JFK. Ask Schwarzenegger. Ask Babe Ruth. Ask Einstein. Ask Edison, Freud, Twain. And others.

Governments which, in response to threats against the liberties and securities of the state, diminish the state's liberties in the hope of increasing its securities, thereby give a partial victory to the threateners. Benjamin Franklin acidly remarked that "they that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." It is better to live a trifle more dangerously to live freely, than to live safely in a locked room made of fears and restrictions—not least when the liberties in question have been hard won over long stretches of history, and are precious.

If small countries and quiet nations—places and peoples on the sidelines, like these islands—are safe from terrorism, it is because they owe their immunity to marginality. The same applies to individuals. In his fable of the great and little fishes, Aesop has the latter say, "Our insignificance is often the cause of our safety." Some therefore embrace insignificance. But safety is almost its only merit. Although being out in front assuredly invites peril as well as rewards, there is the added consolation identified by Victor Hugo: "Great perils have this beauty, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers." As does the medium of a fine cigar. I am indebted to Montecristo for their "A," my ataraxia.

Gary Hagland
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands


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