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August 10, 2011

Robert Emmet: "Let no man write my epitaph."


It the title of a 1960 movie with Shelley Winters, Ricardo Montalban, Jean Seberg and Burl Ives (playing a kindly and boozy Irish-American judge). It was based on a 1958 novel by Willard Motley. But the words came from a real guy, Irish nationalist Robert Emmet, during the "speech from the dock" before he was hanged by the British in 1803 for leading a march on Dublin Castle.

History doesn't think Emmet was the most effective Irish rebel who ever lived--but his final words endured:

I have but one request to ask at my departure from this world – it is the charity of its silence. Let no man write my epitaph. No man can write my epitaph, for as no man who knows my motives and character dares now to vindicate them, let not prejudice or ignorance asperse them.

Let them rest in obscurity and peace until other times and other men can do justice to them. When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then shall my character be vindicated, then may my epitaph be written.

I think of Emmet's words this way--and my sense is that nearly all of the people I work with for clients, or have as friends, or look up to, think and feel the same way:

No one but you should have the right to define who you are. Don't live your life by 'default' or design of another person or thing. Think your own thoughts; make choices. Avoid defining yourself based on 'one thing', even a good one thing: a political party, a philosophy, a family, a company, a region, a nation. Try out different people, and ideas. Mix, match and avoid the small-mindedness of certitude. Don't whine, do something.

Posted by JD Hull at August 10, 2011 12:00 AM


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