Alan Titchmarsh

Plato or Cohen?

Plato said, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”

The poet William Stafford said, “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.”

Before I gained enough confidence, I can remember being afraid to say things because I worried they might sound stupid. So how many times have I missed out on engaging with others because of my own self-doubt? But does it really matter if the things we say or write are not grammatically correct; as long as those thoughts are original? Ideas well expressed, even if clumsy, are courageous, especially in this day and age, when we are so easily criticised in the public forum.

But surely it is a mark of respect to the intelligence of others if we take the time to craft a well thought through presentation? Listening to a poorly crafted speech, or reading a badly written essay where it is clear that little effort has been expended, is a waste of people’s time. I have forgotten how many boring talks or crummy films I have endured, and said to myself, “That’s another ninety minutes of my life I will never get back.”

Careful planning and diligence will almost always result in work to be proud of. But on the flip side, how do we get going, and improve if we are too scared of achieving a poor result? Most people do nothing when faced with this dilemma. They think about writing a book, or executing a business project, but instead of getting on with it, they are too afraid of the inevitable criticism, be it bad or good. Sometimes, it could be the belief that committing to paper (or kindle) the rest of the world might not think the author is the next George Orwell after all. So they conclude it is best never to begin…

So just what should we do when we find ourselves in a state of inertia? Do we sit in silence because we have nothing clever or interesting to say, or do we just get on with it, and hope that in the action of doing, we may perfect the thing along the way?

Does this theory apply only to writing, or to everything we do? I knew a girl who was reluctant to invite friends over to her home, because she had not completed the décor. But how many happy moments might she have had, just sitting on packing cases, and drinking out of paper cups?

Imagine your life was like a gardening project. Will you wait until everything is complete, or invite others to come and give you a hand?

You will obviously want to design the layout, although it may well have to incorporate existing trees, shrubs or structures. These immovable objects are like your past, and there is no point trying to yank out the big stuff. However, if those things are unpleasant, or could do with improvement, you can always grow climbing roses over an eyesore you would rather not look at. This is a bit like accepting there will always be “stuff,” but we can learn to live with it, and indeed we can enhance what cannot be taken away. Picture a wisteria in full blossom, rambling over a shabby old shed, and you’ll get the idea.

If you have a blank canvass, or a big plot to fill, you will be grateful for the cuttings that friends bring you, and although you might not know how these things will turn out, there is always a corner to accommodate a new plant, and the thrill of anticipation, as you watch your garden develop through the seasons, and inevitably through the years. We should always be open to new ideas and ways of looking at things, in order to stay fresh.

There may even be the gift of a sapling. To this day, I wonder how the silver birch is doing, planted in a garden I left ten years ago. I could be sad about that, but this Greek Proverb comforts me; “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

Flowers feel a bit like fair weather friends to me. They are so colourful and attention grabbing, but with their constant need for water and dead heading, they are exhausting, can never be relied upon, and they are so fleeting…

Evergreens are like your stoic and constant friends and family. They provide the backbone in your life. Ignore them at your peril, for your garden will have no substance, and when the pretty flowers have gone, there will be huge unsightly voids. The loneliness of absent friends and family is also keenly felt when those pretty flowers are not there to camouflage this difficult truth.

The arrival of spring bulbs, those bright pops of daffodils, tulips and boldly scented hyacinths are like people we love, and who we don’t see often, but when we do, there is a familiarity and an established affection that feels as strong as it did the last time we saw them. We know they will go again, so we enjoy the time spent in their company, and keenly look forward to the next.

Oscar Wilde said, “Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. The consciousness of loving and being loved brings a warmth and a richness to life that nothing else can bring.”

When we let people into our lives, and allow them to see our imperfections, we give them a chance to share their knowledge and love with us. There is no point in knowing everything, or owning everything if you keep it to yourself, so by allowing others to help, you are actually giving them a chance to share. Showing your vulnerability allows those closest to you to demonstrate their kindness and generosity, whether spiritually or materially.

As an inspirational and motivational speaker, I talk about Right-Now-Ness, the art of taking action, because nothing can be perfected until we put things into motion. This obviously goes against Plato’s words and those of Stafford.

So I am going to end with another quote, this time by Leonard Cohen.

“Ring the bells that you can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.”

So I am Plato or Cohen? Neither. Just call me Alana Titchmarsh x

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