Aug 08, 2020

Campus garden inspires meditation

tim_ellison_thumb_web.jpgOUR CAMPUS IS full of little gardens, unexpected enclaves of order and natural beauty.

One of my favorites is the romantically named Allergy-Free Demonstration Garden, just behind the Smittcamp Alumni House.

Even though it’s situated next to a busy parking lot, it’s still a relaxing place to spend an hour or two reading, admiring the plant and animal life, or just sitting down. Some of the trees are already in bloom, and they’re only going to become prettier as spring comes along.

One of the great beauties of this garden isn’t alive at all, however.

Just a little way into the garden, beneath a crape myrtle whose naked branches look like antlers, there is a simple plaque that was presented to the university by the Rotary Club of Fresno in 1985.

Engraved on this plaque are four questions we should ask ourselves about everything we think, do, or say. They are:

1) Is it the truth?

2) Is it fair to all concerned?

3) Will it build good will and better friendships?

4) Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

When I was younger I would have thought these guidelines silly.

Who could keep such regular control of their words and actions?

How could people be expected to order their lives according to the rigid structures like these or those of religion and ethical philosophy?

I thought virtue was inherent in individual men and women, not something cultivated like a garden.

The strictures of philosophy and religion availed men nothing. They were simply another means by which “moral superiors� exercised their dominance.

Like most of my youthful opinions, however, this one was dead wrong.

The potential of the human spirit, I have found, is equally profound in all men and all women.

When reading of the great heroes in literature and history, we gaze upon the summit of ourselves. The great codes of the priests and the philosophers are the skeleton of the magnanimus, the great-souled man and the great-souled woman.

How do we ascend this summit?

How do we put muscle and flesh and life around these bones?

Aristotle identified this for us quite some time ago: habit. We become good by doing good things. We ascend the summit one step at a time. We exercise the body, and it becomes strong. We cultivate our garden.

But we have to ask ourselves which actions are good and which are bad, and that really is a matter of opinion.

Some opinions, thankfully, are better than others. I think the Rotary Club plaque has the right focus, as do most major ethical philosophies and religious codes.

These questions are realistic, pragmatic, and people-centered. If we follow them diligently, they can have a tangible, positive influence on our lives and the lives of those around us.

The trees in the garden are filled with birds; now and again a gust of wind plays in the treetops.

It takes a lot of work to keep a garden healthy, a lot of tedious, well-ordered labor, but the fluttering of the birds is worth it, as is the smell of blossoms, and the sound of the wind dancing overhead.

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