Commentary | Life Lines: Finding wisdom in the third stall from the right

I read something on the back of a toilet stall last week that made my Intro to Philosophy class look like playtime in kindergarten. It wasn’t the latest in Chuck Norris-isms; neither was it a telephone number and address left by “Blowin’ Joe.” No, my unknown washroom scribbler etched the following words into the pale green door: “…the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

Now before we even get to the famous author of these words we have to ask ourselves through what perspective did this person write them. Were they using a grand analogy to describe the concentration required to successfully act out the necessary deeds (namely number one and two) in a crowded washroom? Quite possibly. But most of us are capable of doing this, and surely the term “great man” isn’t attributed to us all.

To solve this mystery let us look at the original creator of this quote. Ironically, I’ve lately been reading random tidbits of this American philosopher, essayist, and poet. Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke to large crowds in his day and was considered the intellectual leader of the U.S. at the time. Whether or not he thought his legacy would be continued on bathroom stalls is debatable. But when asked to sum up his years of work, he said that his central doctrine was “the infinitude of the private man.”

Ah-ha! Where are we most concerned about our privacy if not at the urinal (for some of us) or on the pot (for all of us)? Now now, don’t get all riled up. I’m not trying to turn exceptional thought into potty humour. What I’m trying to say is that although A does not look or sound anything like Z, it can help you get there. We may not want or need to use our various toilet experiences as tools to live as great men and women – but it can’t hurt.

We live in a very busy world where the crowd can pull you every which way. A world racked with possible rights and wrongs, and shook with potential good and bad. Trying to draw the lines according to today’s varying societal psyches can hardly lead to a “perfect sweetness.” Maybe we need to transplant our bathroom skills into the rest of our lives. And by bathroom skills I mean the mere ability to want to remain in “the independence of solitude.”

Yes, we need to work together as a society and yes, there is strength in unity, but also yes, we need to allow ourselves to be okay with creating and keeping our own unique selves. Selves that can stand strong alone if need be. When glancing through history, it is often these selves that managed to calm a storm, endorse a freedom, or save a life.

Now it could very well be that your sense of self totally disagrees with all of my philosophical philandering, and that you would like to use this column for your next trip to the washroom. That’s fine, you are obviously already very much in the perfect sweetness of the independence of solitude.

As for me, I’m hunting out toilet stalls to see when the mystery quoter strikes again.

Whether its Shakespeare or Voltaire, I’ll be there.

Johanu’s column appears every Monday. Do you like potty phisolophy? Send some of your shit to lifelines@mcgilldaily.com.


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