Sand castle virtues (a reprise)

With my recent trip to the beach, this old post is aptly titled. I think of these words often, when I am walking along the shore as yesterday’s castles are washed away.

I was listening closely to an old song called “Thick as a Brick” by Jethro Tull, when a phrase struck me more so than before. Jethro Tull is renowned for interesting and unusual lyrics mixed in with equal parts flute, guitars and piano making a unique sound. Yet, amidst the lyrics is a reference to “sand castle virtues.” Here is the stanza which includes the term, penned by Ian Anderson:

And the sand castle virtues are all swept away. In the tidal destruction, the moral melee
The elastic retreat rings the close of play. As the last wave uncovers the newfangled way.

I found this reference profoundly insightful, as many of our so-called virtues are not as concrete as we would like them to be. In other words, they are easily washed away by the waves and replaced by a modified version meeting a new paradigm. This is one reason people can support a candidate or politician who changes posture on a topic. Or, when the candidate was against an issue earlier when the opposing party supported it, but now favors it as it suits his interests today, we followers can overlook the previous stance.

The tide has washed away the previous virtuous stance and has been replaced. What is interesting to me is this song was written in the 1970s, so it is referencing that these malleable virtues or positions have been around a lot longer than today. The only difference is today we can more easily find the previous position, which may have only been stated a few years before. Yet, we don’t ask questions of why you have changed. In essence, we are “thick as a brick” by not staying on top of things and realizing when smoke is being blown at us.

Speaking through my imperfections, I find it hard to fathom why we choose virtues like we are at a cafeteria. A friend of mine uses the reference to “cafeteria Christians,” not to pick on this religion, but use it as an example. Some will cherry pick the parts of the bible they support, but overlook overarching themes. But, this occurs in other religions as well.

If we focus on the overarching virtues and endeavor to do the right thing, we will be on more solid footing. It is when we try to massage a virtue to meet an ideologue or a position, do we risk our position being washed away with the tide. Here are few that would solidify our foundation:

– Treat others like you want to be treated

– Be more inclusive, rather than exclusive

– You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion

– Kindness is not a weakness and in fact is a quiet strength

– It is easy to love someone when things go well; only when they don’t is it hard

– Help your neighbor when he needs it, as you may be in need one day

– Pay attention to what leaders are doing and shine a light on poor behavior

– Treat our environment well for the next generation, which is even noted in the bible

I could go on, but these are a few virtues that would not be washed away. These virtues are far more than sand castles and could stand the greater test of time and barrage of waves. And, if we did these things day in and day out, they would become ingrained making us less “thick as a brick.”


38 thoughts on “Sand castle virtues (a reprise)

  1. Sadly, you are so right, as was Ian Anderson when he wrote those lyrics nearly fifty years ago. I had the album on vinyl – one of the best sleeves ever produced, and the music was great too. Just as well you didn’t quote some of the other lyrics, though 😊

  2. Eight virtues, elegantly put Keith. Seven years on since original, are we now living in a ‘post virtue’ world? Virtue, a word now rarely seen in commentary where everything is contested. An example? How about fake news? A conjunction of NEWS, which is information about current events. This may be provided through many different media: word of mouth, printing, postal systems, broadcasting, electronic communication, or through the testimony of observers and witnesses to events, and FAKE, intended to look like something else, esp. in order to deceive.
    Gee I’m glad to be old!

  3. Loved that list, Keith. And ‘cafeteria Christians’ is priceless. I think the homogeneous nature of the media is one of the root causes. If you don’t like the hard news on a channel, you can switch it…

    • Thanks Steve. My friend who first used this “cafeteria Christians” is an astute attorney, so it gave it substance. Religious zeal facilitates taking passages out of context which diminishes the real meaning. Jimmy Carter, who taught Sunday school for decades (and still does), has several times noted how some Christians cherry pick language to put groups down, women in particular.

    • Roger, thanks for the reblog, even if it only gets Jethro Tull more notoriety. Great post on Jill’s blog. I need to re-read it for full affect. Keith

      • There was some quality about Jethro Tull which was hard to pin down. They could not be compared with other bands.
        Other ‘prog-rock’ bands can sounded dated or a bit elitist (looking at you Peter Gabriel’s Gensis).
        Not Jethro Tull though, I didn’t invest in their albums at the time, never too late though.

      • Roger, good recap on Jethro Tull. Their musicality was at a high level and use of the flute stood out. I can think of only two other rock bands that featured the flute as much – the band “Heart” with the two Wilson sisters and a southern rock band named “Marshall Tucker.” Another Prog-rock band that was very good in my view is “Yes.” Keith

      • I discovered ‘Yes’ in recent years and would agree,
        As regards ‘the flute’ we have to add The Moody Blues in their second incarnation from the ‘Days of Future Past’ album onwards.
        And thanks for tuning me into Marshall Tucker, I missed them first time around (very busy time in my life)

  4. Very thought-provoking, Keith. What we call virtues are often just a nice paint on the surface to make a good appearance. But as soon as we are called to live by them, the paint may come off. I love the virtues you listed. They are pillars of humanity to me, and if everyone would only live by them, this world would be a different one. And it is independent of any religion.
    I love that one with the two ears, one mouth, and to use them in proportion the most. Thanks for this reminder, Keith!

    • Thanks Erika. I have always liked that one. It comes from an old boss. I like your reference to “nice paint” as it is so apt. Keith

      • Roger, good add with The Moody Blues. Marshall Tucker is a good example of a southern rock band. The Allman Brothers lead the way, but also very good are Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels and ZZ Top, to name a few. The first three – MT, AB and LS had multiple tragic deaths in their bands, with the LS having a plane crash kill three of its members. Keith

  5. Wise words for treading lightly and giving back. Being open to the magic of the world in the most tangible form. Lovely sentiment and thanks for sharing your views. I think this kind of softness/kindness is needed.

  6. Sand castles are truly memory triggers. I wrote a poem about them last March, in the midst of the pandemic, occasioned by thoughts of impermanence: “Building Sandcastles, Then and Now.” Brought me back to my own childhood.

    • Annie, it is a memory trigger. I recall building diverting trenches for the incoming tide to skirt my castles. Of course, they failed. This lyric hit home. Keith

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