Chief Tecumseh was a powerful Native American leader who inspired thousands of his people in a resistance against the American invasion of their lands in the early 19th century. Allying himself and his confederacy, aptly named “Tecumseh’s Confederacy,” with the British in the War of 1812, Tecumseh’s movement only terminated with his death in 1813. However, his words live on in transcriptions of his most famous speeches, which still inspire motivation in the hearts of those who read them. In one, he describes how to live a good life, and his words have much to teach us:
“So live your life that the fear of death/can never enter your heart./Trouble no one about their religion;/respect others in their view, and/Demand that they respect yours./Love your life, perfect your life,/Beautify all things in your life./Seek to make your life long and/Its purpose in the service of your people./Prepare a noble death song for the day/when you go over the great divide./Always give a word or a sign of salute/when meeting or passing a friend,/Even a stranger, when in a lonely place./Show respect to all people and/Bow to none. When you arise in the morning/give thanks for the food and/For the joy of living. If you see no reason for/giving thanks,/The fault lies only in yourself./Abuse no one and nothing,/For abuse turns the wise ones to fools/and robs the spirit of its vision./When it comes your time to die,/be not like those whose hearts/Are filled with fear of death, so that/when their time comes/They weep and pray for a little more time/to live their lives over again/In a different way. Sing your death song/and die like a hero going home.”
Tecumseh begins by reminding us of the most important rule he can offer. Live without fear. In saying this, he echoes great leaders and philosophers across the spectrum of history, from the ancient Roman philosophers Seneca and Epictetus to American president Franklin Roosevelt. Fear no one and nothing, for there is nothing that can harm you if you live with conviction and take no action that you would regret for the whole world to see.
In fact, Tecumseh’s next few lines discuss this conviction. Trouble no one about their views, Tecumseh says, respect them, instead. Even if you think you are right, even if you know you are right, there is no way to change someone’s stance unless they move themselves. Do not pit your views against theirs in battle, simply offer yours as an alternative. Your efforts to budge them by force will only make you their enemy.
You must demand the same respect in return. Neither allow yourself to be swayed in your beliefs by suavity or fiery passion or temptation. Demand respect for what you believe in, and you will become a different breed of human. You will be principled, a rare species in our epoch.
The chief suggests an overarching principle next, one that he believes all people should hold in their thoughts at all times. Love your life. For if you love your life then there is nothing you would not do to improve it, to perfect it and to beautify all things in it. It is a natural progression. If you love something you want only the best for it, you will work and work and work on its behalf, and you will never give up on it even in the most dire of circumstances. Love your life, love yourself, respect yourself and improve all things in your life.
To do this, though, your life must have direction. You cannot improve your life unless you are improving towards an ideal. The charismatic Native American leader makes a proposal that I can easily put in the terms of today. He says, let your life’s purpose be in the service of your people. I say, give value. Living in a world of people who never do anything but take, it is easy to forget to give. Give of yourself, of your time, of your expertise and passion, and do it even when there is nothing given in return for your labor. That is the most important point. Most people will only give out of selfishness, when it is to their immediate benefit to do so. I tell you this truth, if you give freely and generously now, with no thought of immediate personal gain, you are sowing the seeds of your future success. Your harvest will be full when the autumn comes.
What incredible chance has allowed you to be alive today, sewn from the very fabric of the universe? Whatever your beliefs, remember this great good fortune every day you live. If you do not, as the wise chieftain said, the fault lies only with you, for the world is indeed marvelous, it is indeed magical, and it is indeed unique, changing and magnificent as every moment our heart beats and the seconds slip by. Have you ever considered what a joy it is to breathe?
Live this joy, and harm no one and nothing else. The moment you commit yourself to harming another you are blaspheming against the universe which has so spontaneously and miraculously spawned you. Live in concert with the harmony of life. It is natural for some things to grow, for some things to live, for some to feel pain, and for some to die. That is all part of the swell and sway of the universal music. But your choice only governs your life, you have no sovereignty over the lives of others, so do not presume to harm or abuse them.
All you may do is live the life of your choice, as well as you can, always learning and growing, perfecting and beautifying, until that same music comes to a crescendo just for you as you pass on. Those others who do not live as you have, who have not given their all and then more to this life, they will weep and wish and worry when this time comes. They will want to restart the clock and live as you have. Do not be infected. You have lived well, and as the final strains of song play through the air, dancing to your ears, there is only one final question.
How many people do you want present at your funeral? How do you want them to feel? Maybe that’s a selfish question, because I know that I want the entire world to mourn my passing. I want to leave a legacy. That’s how Tecumseh ends his poem. If we remember that time is always slipping away, and we seize the moment, we make something of ourselves, all of us can be heroes, in ways small and large, but only if we live a life worth remembering.
Die like a hero going home.
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Jack Dolinar is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "more percent efficient" runs on alternate Fridays.