Festina Lente (Make Haste Slowly)
by Jake Block
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
— Alexander Pope
Pope went on to explain, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. … I don’t fear death so much as I fear its prologues: loneliness, decrepitude, pain, debilitation, depression, senility.” In essence, he was warning us that the most visible danger, the one we planned against, was seldom the only danger, and while we might indeed survive our greatest fear, like death from a thousand cuts, things we consider insignificant before the fact, or can’t consider at all, become contributor to our failure, after all.
“Festina lente” might seem an oxymoron (and it is,) but like most oxymorons, the combination of amusingly conflicting terms make a statement that has wisdom, for those who are wise enough to consider their meaning. Jumbo Shrimp, Old News, Open Secret, Deafening Silence, Only Choice, all oxymorons and get the point across, albeit in an obtusely pointed way. The word oxymoron itself is a combination of words in opposition, derived from the Greek “Oxys” (sharp) and “moros,” meaning dull.
“Festina Lente” has been around a long time and can be found in history as the motto or Roman Emperors Agustus and Titus, as well as the Medici family and the British family Onslow, currently headed by the 8th Earl of Onslow, Rupert Onslow. The Dutch Philosopher Disiderius Erasmus was fond of the phrase as well. Aldus Pius Manutius, humanist, scholar and founder of the Aldine Press, illustrated the phrase “Festina Lente” as an anchor (used to moor a ship, or at sea, to slow its movement,) upon which was placed the figure of the dolphin, known for its speed.
When you find yourself compelled to act, be it on a matter of personal import or on a matter of survivability of one’s philosophy or nation, cool your jets and stay your hand for a time to consider and determine if this is the hill on which you would die. There are many warriors of history who, although formidable warriors, are now dead warriors, left to the elements on hills that while, in the heat of passions, seemed indispensable, but lost their value in Pyrrhic victory. Keep your hand on the hilt of your sword, certainly, but draw your weapon only when you have committed to your survival or your death on the firmest of convictions. The coolest heads know that a moment of contemplation can be as great a weapon as the strongest army.
So, what can we learn from this long-lived oxymoronic adage? Consider the consequences before you charge headlong into the fray. Even though you might want to make an immediate impact upon the situation and prevail, most often you’ll find that very little is easy in a world of conflict, and unless you can see a clear path to victory and reward, caution is always indicated. In the end, you will probably get further faster if you take a bit of time before acting. While I know that it might sound strange, I’ve found that in life, the shortest distance between two places is seldom a straight line, but a series of twists and turns that eventually gets you where you need to be.