Omar Khayyam, is probably the best known and universally venerated dignitary identified in ancient Middle East history. The 11th Century poet, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer, may not be best remembered for his development of the cubic equation in mathematics, nor his valuable reforms to the yearly calendar, but is eternally famous for his poetic verses, most particularly, the following:
“The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on; nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line nor thy tears wash out a single word of it.”
We can discern two distinct understandings of this erudite admonition and are inclined (hopefully, without presumption) to award the full measure of three cheers to one and to the other, but two.
If the ancient poet’s observation is intended to mean that our acts and statements, including those which are the product of thoughtlessness, or impulsive behavior, are intractably and irredeemably final and determinative, we are inclined to award the good doctor only two of the precious three cheers. Such an assertion we see as unnecessarily harsh to the extent that its decree means that the impact of all human behavior is fixed and unredeemable.
In our immediately preceding writing, “The Nuclear Syllable” # 193, we saluted the human capability to preliminarily consider an intended act or statement, and as well, as his equally commendable aptitude for forgiveness, and empathic toleration of errors or perceived insult; both of practical importance to man’s development of society. It is inarguable that such qualities are among the many capabilities of an advanced brain, the generous gift to homo sapiens by evolution. The recognition of the potential for human error and its allowance is just, empathic and competent evidence of mature social wisdom.
In previous writings, we have, for purposes of illustration, proposed a scenario as follows: Let us suppose that on some impulse, I choose to steal an object from another unwitting person. After such wrongful and immoral act, because of understandable remorse, I quickly return the item to that person, who elects to accept my tearful apology and completely forgive me; in fact, he states that, as far as he is concerned, the incident is to be permanently forgotten. However, the incident cannot be forgotten by me; in truth, I am not absolved at all. I still will have to come to grips with the difficult question, relative to my own private self- image, as to what sort of a person I essentially am, to have chosen to steal in the first place. There is, predictably, in addition to remorse, lasting damage to that private, cherished, self-image and lifelong perception of my personal identity.
If the of the quoted verses are intended to observe that our significant acts and statements remain in our memory and have an enduring impact upon our perceived identity and perception of self, we would happily and justifiably award Omar the full measure of three cheers. There would seem to be little reasonable doubt that significant acts and statements (good or lamentable) create a lasting and defining impact upon our privately nurtured persona. [ As we have maintained in previous writings, the preservation of our desired self- image is the valid motivating source and rational basis of our morality; not, as fancied by too many, anticipated rewards and punishments, worldly or supernatural.]