I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
From “Invictus” by William Ernest Henly, 1875
When I took this picture I was sitting out on the cliffs in dense fog. The morning was chilly and the silence complete. The fog was isolating miniatures out of the larger landscape, like this life buoy sitting atop a sea of frozen waves of rock.
I felt quite touched by the scene. And as often at first I didn’t quite know why. On reflection, though, I realized that the scene evoked in me a sense of sympathy and compassion. Sympathy for everyone struggling through the rough and unforgiving ocean of life. And it seems that not many life belts are around in that ocean.
The question of how to live a good life has puzzled mankind from the dawn of our consciousness. Ethics has been a core discipline of human thought since times immemorial. But apart from this general question how “one” should lead a life and how we can form societies based on ethical values, there has always been a more private and lonely aspect to ethics, one I called for myself the “mirror test”. This test means: whom do I want to see when I look into the mirror in the morning? Do I want to see a superficial, selfish brute? Or do I want to see a person that is decent, upright, considerate and friendly to all.
Of course, even in the intimacy of the mirror moment, there is the possibility of self-deception. But such self-deception comes at a price, that of self-loathing. If we lie to the mirror it will come to haunt us; in some corner of our mind we will realize that we are not anymore steering the ship of our soul. If we have to lie to ourselves, we truly have become lost souls.
But even if we stay truthful in front of the mirror the directions are not clear, the ocean seems to stretch in all directions and where should we go? – As I was sitting on the cliffs, I noticed the little roof above the life buoy. Now, I don’t know whether a life belt needs protection from the elements or whether the little roof makes the structure stronger. But I suspect it has been added for the sheer neatness of it. Many structures in the Finnish countryside have these lovingly added finishing touches: little houses for milk cans to be picked up, bus stops and letter boxes. Like them the stand for the buoy becomes a little sculpture in the landscape. Somehow, a message seems to emanate from this sculpture, a message of caring and reaching out to those lost at sea.
And as I sat there shivering on the cold cliffs I was reminded again of the deep connection between ethics and aesthetics. We are not only the captains, but also the sculptors of our souls.