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Doing the Comparative

We continue to reflect on the life of Cecil John Rhodes - colonialist, entrepreneur, businessman, statesman, imperialist, mining magnate, and politician in southern Africa.

Rhodes never married. It’s maybe just as well, because he never wanted to be pinned down. He was always on the move – over huge distances on very slow modes of transport. He was, however, a most eligible bachelor. One society type towards the end of his life claimed they were engaged to be married and tried to dupe him into letting her have a lot of money. He felt obliged to go to court to protect himself. Another Jezebel.


But I really wanted to mention one of his regular phrases because it has application to how we might be feeling today. The phrase was “Do the comparative. Always do the comparative.” By this he meant that whenever you found yourself in a bad situation, reflect on how much worse things might have been, or how much greater the misery that someone else might be suffering. He particularly chose to think about a military leader who might have suffered an awful defeat and had to flee with his soldiers from the battlefield. And then he would think: “But after all, the sun rose the next day, the river flowed between its banks, and the world went on very much the same despite it all.” He would then go to bed and sleep soundly!


On one occasion he came close to going to prison in London. He said: ”If I had to go to prison I should have gone to the Tower before I was locked up. I should have gone to the cell in which poor Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned before he was led out to be beheaded.... So when I was locked up I would be able to think to myself: After all, you are not so badly off as poor Sir Walter Raleigh.”


On an occasion when he and an associate had been heavily criticised he said: “Just think for a moment what it is to have been born an Englishman in England. Think how many millions of men there are in the world who have been born Chinese or Hindus....” It’s the sort of racist thing he said, but it’s amusing! He was doing the comparative, as he saw it. (Maybe if you’re Chinese or a Hindu you have a great time!)


Picture of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Cell in Tower of London from where he was taken to be executed.

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