Friday, 29 March 2013

Three things Moby Dick will teach you about life

Moby Dick is a must read. But it doesn’t belong on a top-shelf of stuffy classics coated in dust. It lives, and breathes, and everyone needs to read this book. 

‘Call me Ishmael’, the book begins, and from there it’s a headlong descent into an obsession-fuelled madness. And, because the levels of meaning run deeper than a whale’s dive, it will challenge your mind and take you places - weird, strange places - that you otherwise wouldn’t go. And that doesn’t just mean a whale-ship off the Cape Horn; it’ll take you on a journey down into your own mind too.

If you want to see everything, do everything -  and who wouldn’t -  reading Moby Dick shouldn’t just be on your bucket list, it should be on tomorrow’s to-do.

Here’s the top three things that Moby Dick will teach you.

1) Walk the line

There’s a fine balance between being passionate and obsessed. Reading Moby Dick will teach you exactly what it takes to find that balance.

You cannot necessarily trust the people around you to tell you when you’ve crossed the line into obsession. The captain, Abraham, manages to convince the crew to go on his crazy whale hunt. He is convincing and evangelical and unwilling to listen to reason. 

Every achievement requires some kind of single-minded focus. And being blinkered to criticism can be necessary for success. However, if you are obsessed with something - especially if it’s the wrong thing - it is unlikely that you will be able to accept good feedback. And that means people won’t want to give you it. 

It’s a tough balancing act. If you are put off by every negative comment, you won’t be able to do anything significant. But if you don’t listen to criticism, you might spend years doing the wrong thing, wasting your resources.

Moby Dick shows us how to find that midpoint. Listen to specific people you trust. But most importantly, be the judge of your own actions. The best way to tell if you are obsessed with the wrong thing is seeing its effect in the world. Do you have to say or do crazy things to justify your beliefs. Are you circumventing the globe chasing your very own white whale?

2) Meet your shadow

Abraham, the captain, becomes obsessed with killing a white-whale that ‘reaped’ his leg. This famous obsession is infinitely interpretable. The ferocious, unbending anger that Abe feels towards the Sperm-Whale, ultimately, is symbolic of the anger that is inside us all. Abraham’s fury, pointless and driven, has lived in all of us at some point: with a boss, parent, friend, or partner. We’ve all felt that flash of white rage when you just want to put your fists up and fight. 

Moby Dick forces you to confront your inner demons - and experience the futility of them. By letting you live, vividly, the nightmarish, logical conclusion of this blinding anger, it will let you see - feel - how utterly foolish it is. It shows you that you’ll end up bent on ripping up the world with hate, chasing around the world something that only exists inside your mind.

3) Do your dues

Decks need scrubbing, food needs making and whales need catching. In the life of an adult there is a certain amount of life-admin that just needs to be done. You’ll always need to wash up and polish your shoes. Work needs to get done.

Moby Dick teaches you that however tumultuous life is, there is nobility in keeping your life in order. A ships deck gets dirty constantly, it always needs cleaning. How much easier to let it stay dirty. But being able to create a home is one thing that separates us from animals. And a well-run ship is the one thing that keeps the tempestuous ocean at bay.

Moby Dick is a foundational piece of literature, and reading it is an experience to be treasured. Like all great novels, when you’ve made the journey and look back - you'll be able to enjoy more than just the view. It will change you too.


Moby Dick is available on Amazon - only two pounds!

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