A Cart, A Horse and Virgil

Good Monday so far. Broke-the-fast with Hudson and Mathews early at Arby’s. Dropped-off Collin at school. Back home for a little while before I headed here to the office. As I was leaving the house, I kissed Michelle, Elsa and Jude goodbye and wished them a good day. I also said to Elsa, “Have a good time at preschool today.” Elsa said, “I’m going to preschool today? What day is it?” 

First, I love that 4-year-0lds have no real need to know which day it is. I’m a bit envious. Secondly, any of you who know Elsa’s fun-loving spirit are not surprised at her not knowing which day it is. But she then said, “What kind of day will tomorrow be?”  When Elsa asks this question, she means which day will it be tomorrow. She’s not asking for the qualities that tomorrow will hold. She’ll decide the quality that tomorrow will hold based on which day you say it will be. 

For instance, if you say, tomorrow will be Wednesday Elsa will be excited because preschool meets on Mondays and Wednesdays. She will pre-judge the quality that Wednesday will hold based on what she assumes about Wednesdays, which is that preschool equals fun and Wednesday equals preschool therefore Wednesday equals fun. Ah, the logic of a 4-year-old. She gives no consideation to the fact that preschool itself could hold good or bad qualities each time it meets or that variations could occur on any given Wednesday. Her notions are often pre-conceived.  

But turning that lense on ourselves as older people, I think we can see the same, flawed logic at work in us . We pre-judge what quality a day will hold: “I hate Mondays.”  We pre-judge what quality a commitment will hold: “I can’t believe I volunteered to do this.” We pre-judge what qualities our job will hold today: “I can’t work here another day!” We pre-judge our relationships: “I can’t believe I’m stuck with this person for the rest of my life!!” 

We pre-judge constantly. In the study of logic and critical thought, we’d say you are ‘allowing the conclusion to interpret the data.’ To dumb that down, it means you’ve already decided how something is going to turn out so you’re going to see any of the preceeding situations or facts through the lense of your assumed conclusion. This kind of flawed thinking can ruin your day, your week and maybe even your life. 

Virgil, circa 35 B.C.E.


Virgil wrote about 2000 years ago in his epic poem, the Aeneid, “Let us die, and charge into the thick of the fight.” This is one of the first uses of a literary device called hysteron proteron, which means that the thing which occurs later is stated before the thing which will occur first. The literal translation is ‘latter before.’ Obviously, Virgil knew a ‘ charge into the thick of the fight’ must occur before the deaths in the fight but he states “Let us die” first because it is the most important part of the thought. He assumes death to be the conclusion and therefore uses it as motivation for the charge. Virgil’s conclusion interprets the situation before the situation ever occurs. 

In a more modern way, we might use the cliché ‘you’re putting the cart before the horse.’ We know this to mean that the less important things are ruling over the more important things; the secondary concerns are giving direction to what should be our primary concerns. 

We’re doing things out-of-order! There, that’s as plainly as I can put it. 

Stop assuming your day is going to be worthless again. Stop assuming your life is going to be meaningless again today. Stop assuming your job is a thing empty of opportunity. Stop assuming you’re going to fight with your spouse or be annoyed by your kids. Stop letting your pre-judged conclusions ruin your day or your week or your life. 

Start interpreting the facts and situations of your day as you come to them. This will give you the freedom and self-permission to skillfully make the most of everything you encounter. Your day still may not reach the conclusion you hope for but at least it will be engaging and thought-provoking.  At least, you will have had the opportunity to enjoy the ‘charge into the thick of the fight’ instead re-living a brain-dead, non-involved slide into the death of each day. 

So drag your horse around and hook him to the front of the cart where he belongs, lay your pre-judged conclusions aside and let’s engage each day.



Filed under New Thoughts

2 responses to “A Cart, A Horse and Virgil

  1. One has to wonder though, is what you consider a “pre-judgment” a presupposition on our part based on prejudice and ignorance or on statistical likelihood. For example, if I walk into a room full of red heads and say to myself “Red heads? I believe red heads to be insane so I will end up angry at them at some point” then I think this lends itself to the former since assumptions are made about a generality without basis. However, if I walk into a room and see Joe, and based on the previous ten encounters I have had with Joe I know that at some point Joe will say something that will make me angry, then that is the latter case. Prejudices based on generalities, such as “Mondays are bad” can not lend themselves any use and therefore can be thought of as bad. One can not change anything about the fact is its Monday or that the room contains red heads. However, if you base the “pre-judgement” on statistical history then I think this is a good thing. You can walk into a room and say “Joe will say something that will make me angry. I know this based on history. I will know it is coming and be prepared for it. This time, I will not allow him to make me angry.” If one is not prepared for a supposed inevitability based on previous history then one will be subject to the whims of his own desires. Or, put another way: Hope for the best, expect the worst.

  2. Deb

    Write on, brother!

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