- Many people have the wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose. [Helen Keller]
- There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing. [Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”, 1849.]
Fidelity to a commitment to the highest good is the pinnacle of human ethical development. When a person’s entire being is devoted to the most worthy ideal to which that person can aspire, the ethical journey has reached its final plateau. We see this not as arrival at a final destination because the point and purpose of reaching this lofty state of Being is to serve the good. We have “miles to go before (we) sleep” and a world of work to do.
- Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 2000).
- Nelson Mandela, Conversations with Myself (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010).
- Nelson Mandela, Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography (Little, Brown & Company, 1996).
- Tom Lodge, Mandela: A Critical Life (Oxford University Press, 2006).
- Richard Stengel, Mandela's Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage (Crown Archetype, 2010).
- John Carlin, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation (Penguin Press, 2008).
- Gabriel García Márquez, The Scandal of the Century and Other Writings (Knopf, 2019): “A resonant new collection of García Márquez’s journalism, ‘The Scandal of the Century,’ demonstrates how seriously he took reportage and what’s now sometimes called (would Liebling approve?) long-form narrative.”
Commitment fidelity on a larger scale:
- Gary W. Gallagher, The Union War (Harvard University Press, 2011): presenting the Civil War as a commitment by the North to transforming “a government ‘for white men’ into one ‘for mankind.’”
- Janice P. Nimura, The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Woman – and Women to Medicine (W.W. Norton & Company, 2021): “Elizabeth, especially, would rhapsodize about humanity in the abstract, even as actual experiences of clinical intimacy could unnerve her. ‘I feel neither love nor pity for men, for individuals,’ she declared as a young doctor, in a letter to one of her brothers. ‘But I have boundless love & faith in Man, and will work for the race day and night.'”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
In the times of Beethoven and Mozart, people commonly saw devotion and fidelity to God as the greatest commitment of all. Yet Beethoven was an infrequent churchgoer and Mozart's playful irreverence was legendary. Formally, their compositions and especially their lyrics reflected their churches but their music voices a more universal idea. We can hear the idea of commitment fidelity expressed in their two most reverential works, both for chorus and orchestra. Though Beethoven was careful to compose his Missa solemnis in the style of the Church, most experts believe that his composition of this work reflected a conviction that our deeper obligation was to each other. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Op. 125 and composed in 1824, would celebrate human joy and freedom. We can hear the progression toward a more explicit Humanism by listening carefully to these two works.
- Beethoven, Missa solemnis in D major, Op. 123 (1823) (performances conducted by Harnoncourt, Gardiner, Bernstein and Karajan) – Toscanini famously conducted it in 1935, 1940, 1952 and 1953:
- Mozart, Mass in C minor, k. 427 (1783) (performances conducted by Fricsay, Bernstein and Suzuki)
Ernest Bloch’s chamber works exude a seriousness of purpose, evoking this value.
- String Quartet in G Major (1896)
- String Quartet No. 1 (1916)
- String Quartet No. 2 (1945)
- String Quartet No. 3 (1952)
- String Quartet No. 4 (1953)
- String Quartet No. 5 (1956)
- Piano Quintet No. 1 (1923)
- Piano Quintet No. 2 (1957)
- Cello Suite No. 1 (1956)
- Cello Suite No. 2 (1957)
- Cello Suite No. 3 (1957)
- (all three cello suites)
- Suite Hébraique for violin and piano (1951)
- Suite No. 1 for solo violin (1958)
- Suite No. 2 for solo violin (1958)
- Suite for viola and piano (1919)
- Baal Shem (Three Pictures of Chassidic Life) for violin and piano, or violin and orchestra (1932)
- Brahms, 4 Ballades, Op. 10 (1854)
- Flagello, Piano Concerto No. 1 (1950)
- Arnell, Symphony No. 7, Op. 201, “Mandela”
- Bax, Piano Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp Minor (1910)
- Widor, Symphony No. 6 in G Minor, Op. 42/2
- Tchaikovsky, Grande Sonata in G Major, Op. 37
- Oswald, Piano Concerto in G Minor, Op. 10
- Aho, Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra, “Sieidi”
Film and Stage
- Brief Encounter, in which two people are tested in their commitment to marriage
- Ratatouille, an animated feature about a rat with extraordinary culinary talents who must decide where he best fits in, the film reminds us that “a great artist can come from anywhere” – well, almost.
- Robert William Service, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”
- Megan Abbott, You Will Know Me: A Novel (Little, Brown & Company, 2016): “At first Katie appears frustrated by the lack of honest communication, but when she finally gets the chance to do something about it, she opts instead to fall in with the evasiveness that’s all around her. The reader is left feeling silly for expecting this manifestly flawed woman to be suddenly heroic. Real life, expertly mimicked by this excellent novel, simply doesn’t work that way.” (walking the talk)