Jon Carroll wrote a wonderful column on July 5, 2000 titled “As You Get Older.” The whole thing is worth reading but there is a section that begins “This is your challenge…” that reads like poetry. So I have re-formatted it as blank verse, it contains a number of observations on advice and influence that I try to bear on mind as I get older.
This Is Your Challenge
You have to be so smart that no one knows how smart you are. You are playing a different game now. The game is called "Who was that masked man?" The masked man was you. You have left behind the silver epiphany. You have said the thing that will make it better. People will get it or they won't. As Maimonides teaches, the best gifts are anonymous. You can get so much more done if you don't worry about credit. If you haven't gotten credit already, you're not going to get it. The search for validation is baggage, and you need to travel light. You need to remember what you don't know and not think of it as a failure. Think of what you do know. What you know is not a weapon; it's a gift.
The Best Gifts Are Anonymous
A note on “As Maimonides teaches, the best gifts are anonymous.”
When I first read this I was unfamiliar with Maimonides, a medieval Jewish scholar who authored “A Guide For the Perplexed” and “The Mishneh Torah” among other works. In his Laws of Charity, 10:7–14 he defines “Eight Levels of Charity.” The highest level is to strengthen a poor person in a manner they are no longer dependent upon charity. The next three levels involve some level of anonymity:
- giving in a way that donor and recipient are not know to each other, relying on a trusted intermediary,
- giving in a way that the recipient does not know who the donor is, but the donor knows who the recipient is,
- giving in a way that donor does not know the recipient but the recipient knows who the donor is