Is it better to have loved and lost or to have never loved at all?

Another installment in our ongoing series, deep thoughts from our chat logs.


#2:  that cartoon is kinda sad.

#1: how so?  I suppose it’s like saying tis better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all, which is debatable.

#2: it seems like it’s saying the man could have been more, could have been great, but instead he drinks beer and watches TV. I like to stay home.

#1: oh, I think they’re saying that man is a critic
not that there’s anything wrong with staying home and drinking beer and being an accountant
but that if you do that, you shouldn’t criticize people who do more stuffs.  Personally I am a big proponent of temperature control.  Climbing mountains seems dumb

#2: but being a critic is important too; otherwise how would we know which books are crap? I mean, I have some problems with professional critics, but sometimes somebody needs to say that the emperor has no clothes.

#1: point taken.  ok, you win.  The context I’d seen it offered in was “if you don’t get rejected from time to time you’re not aiming high enough” which is a totally valid suggestion, especially for women.  But you are right, it doesn’t fit that at all

#2: I agree that if you don’t get rejected you aren’t aiming high enough. That part is right. Making it sad to be an accountant is wrong.

#1: yes
though honestly
being an accountant is kind of sad
except for people who like that sort of thing

#2: maybe they like it though!
maybe it’s like solving a big puzzle for them

#1: but being a mountain climber is also pretty sad.  Except for people who like that sort of thing.  Like, what’s the point?

#2: mountain climbers are kinda dickwads, from the books I’ve read

#1: at least accountants provide value

#2: YES

#1: except the ones who work for arthur anderson or enron
those provided negative value<

#2: went over to the dark side

#1: yes

So… who do you agree with?  Are we misreading (or reading too much into) a cartoon?

28 Responses to “Is it better to have loved and lost or to have never loved at all?”

  1. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I think you are misreading it. The little astronaut in the beginning is his child (picture on top of the teevee). And the other two pictures on the teevee are him succeeding as an accountant. The final panel shows how happy the little kid is being affirmed as a little astronaut. So my read is that it is saying that being a good person professionally and personally–regardless of the specific context (mountain top or home and office) –*is* being “the man in the arena”.

  2. becca Says:

    I think it’s very sad indeed. Because I don’t think people named James also name their kid James, and also no one in this decade wants to be an astronaut. Ergo, the three pictures on the mantle are ALL the same guy- who grew up wanting to be an astronaut for the adventure… and who grew up to be a good accountant, but lives vicariously through the climbers on teevee who, if they are not in the stars, are at least pushing the boundaries on earth.

    There is nothing wrong with wanting to be an accountant. But it is not the kind of thing most little kids dream of. And it’s not the thing that the *accountants* I knew dreamed of while growing up. And there *is* something wrong with inherently liking to stay home and never stretch yourself if, deep down, that little kid would be disappointed to meet their future self.

    Granted, I might be projecting.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s probably the interpretation the illustrator intended.

      #1 dreamed of being an accountant growing up. She loved putting numbers together in neat little charts and so on. But then her brain grew and she needed more challenges, and she also became a bit more sloppy, and that was no longer the person she wanted to be. Though there’s still comfort in numbers coming out just the way they’re supposed to.

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        If that’s what the illustrator intended, it’s a grotesque and douchey sentiment. Without the historical development of accounting and the contemporaneous involvement of accountants, there would have been no space program and no astronauts.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        What have mountain climbers done for anyone anyway?

      • hush Says:

        “What have mountain climbers done for anyone anyway?”

        The best answer to that question can be found in the book “Eiger Dreams” by Jon Krakauer.

  3. bogart Says:

    I think Becca is right about intent but I very much prefer CPP’s interpretation and plan to adopt it as my own. Also, I do think people named James name their kid James, and know at least one person in this decade who wants to be an astronaut, at least in fuzzy outline.

    I think if CPP were right, the picture of the kid would be to the right of the pictures of the adult on the TV. Funny how those small cues take on meaning!

    • chacha1 Says:

      I saw the return to the child’s picture as irony – given the preceding frames of the snoring, chubby, bald guy in the chair with his beer. I did not read it as “a successful accountant is just as noteworthy as a summiting mountaineer!”

      And I think the cartoonist is actually unfamiliar with the full text of the source material.

    • becca Says:

      I’ve read that people naming sons after fathers is on the decline (though I couldn’t dig up data on that), and the name “James” peaked in the 1940s and has been declining since then ( So while yes, of course people still name their kids James, it was more common in CPP’s time than mine. It’s me obliquely calling him a geezer, as is my wont.

      Also, I like some of the other Zen Pencils more. But not the name “Gavin”. No offense to Gavins.

      After reading the whole speech, I think there is a bigger message than the “commencement speech type inspiration” of “dream big”, which we could apply to accountants…

      “The leaders of thought and of action grope their way forward to a new life, realizing, sometimes dimly, sometimes clear-sightedly, that the life of material gain, whether for a nation or an individual, is of value only as a foundation, only as there is added to it the uplift that comes from devotion to loftier ideals.”

      I doubt Theodore Roosevelt took a dim view of accountants- he did, after all, get Congress to establish the Department of Commerce and Labor, which was the first time a formalized accounting system was used for government regulation. On the other hand, I do suspect Teddy would take a Dim View of Enron’s accountants.
      Again, from the speech:
      “Ruin looks us in the face if we judge a man by his position instead of judging him by his conduct in that position. ”
      There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be an accountant! However, trying and failing to be an astronaut might be better than being an accountant. But, in any case, the key aim is to be *good* at what you do (and by that I, and Roosevelt, mean *not* a recognized success as an accountant but instead an accountant with a sound moral compass).
      In other words:
      Failed Good Astronaut > Good Accountant (whether or not successful) >>>>>>> Bad Successful Accountant. Not sure if there are evil astronauts out there.

  4. rented life Says:

    The first pic is a happy kid with dreams, the second is a content person with a “practical job.” and the third is a promotion that isn’t exactly happy looking. I took it as someone somewhere criticized astronaut James who wanted had dreams but may have been told “Be real, pick something practical.” So he did. He listened to the critics and in doing something safe that became less fulfilling he might feel like he’s failed some, and not the “good” kind of fail that the cartoon implies. That’s my take, but it may also be because I’ve heard (directed to myself and to others) to pick practical things, to not try hard things because “you’ll never make it anyway.” And those people tend to not be doing much themselves.

    • GMP Says:

      That’s the big question, isn’t it? Many (most?) kids have pretty wild dreams; a few do pursue them, and fewer still succeed at achieving those dreams. Part of it is that as a kid you have a very limited view of what’s out there and what your capabilities are. Sometimes deciding to take up a reasonable career is really not giving up on a dream, it is finding one. And as someone who loves math, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being an accountant (although I wish the drab wardrobe they are usually pictured in would go away, because I don’t know anyone who dresses like that these days outside of comic strips).
      For most highfalutin professional achievements (e.g. being an astronaut) you really have to have the combination of physical and intellectual abilities that most people just don’t possess. Most people really are well served to be told to do something practical. The question is — whose job is it to decide which few select snowflakes should pursue the dream and which ones should forgo theirs? And who gets to decide what an unattainable dream actually is? We know women are disproportionately often told not to go into fields where it’s really not impossible to succeed, such as getting a degree in science, so there is a fair bit of sour grapes (when these dream-crushing suggestions are given by those who are mediocre themselves) or bigotry in these supposedly well-meaning recommendations to “get practical.”
      I wish we could communicate to our young’uns that one should always reach as high as he/she wants, but be aware that some dreams have a really, really low come-true probability and one should always, always be ready with a plan B.

      • rented life Says:

        If I was told to be practical in that sense–reach, but have plan B– I think I would have been ok with that. But instead I was told flat out I couldn’t do it. (It changed a few times as each thing got shot down.) Eventually I gave up and ended up in a career I don’t love, currently don’t even like, because I gave ZERO thought to what I wanted anymore. I just did the next logical step. It wasn’t until last year that I realized I had lived my entire adult life in a very poor way–for the critics (some of whom are dead!), instead of doing anything for myself. I’m trying to change that, but it’s not been easy.

        Maybe drab is easier to draw and that’s why we always see it in the cartoon?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The people who told you you couldn’t do it are douchecanoes!

      • rented life Says:

        Ok, now there’s a word that was clearly missing from my vocabulary.

  5. chacha1 Says:

    A quick Google search tells me that the cartoonized quotation is taken from a speech at the Sorbonne called “Citizenship in a Republic.” Putting it in that context makes the cartoon seem very shallow and obvious.

    I don’t think TR had in mind the differences between individual men, or judging (e.g.) mountain climbers more favorably than the accountants who sit at home watching mountain climbers’ exploits on TV. I would want to read the rest of the speech, but based on the little I know of TR I would venture a guess that he is talking specifically about the fact that a successful republic takes work – participation – by its citizens.

    So I don’t think it has anything to do with “loved and lost/loved at all” nor with “aim high.” Not on the individual level. The link I found is here and I am now going to read the PDF of the entire speech.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:


      So very much the Protestant Work Ethic. And CPP’s interpretation.

      • chacha1 Says:

        Yes, TR was a man of his times (PWE and white man’s burden etc). The speech is quite wonderful, actually. The linked text was apparently OCR’d and imperfectly edited, but I was glad to find it nonetheless.

  6. Revanche Says:

    I thought it was more an illustration of either:
    One shouldn’t limit oneself based only on an assumption of failure. So: dream on and make your own decisions when you get out in the world.
    One shouldn’t take to heart criticisms from the armchair expert. Only you know what you can do when you get out there and try it and only those out there doing the same, or who have done the same, would have real insight into whatever it is you wanted to do.
    Either way, I felt it was a: go forth and aspire sort of message.

  7. Rosa Says:

    I think the Sherpas should get the credit, personally.

  8. Jacq Says:

    Roosevelt’s autobiography is available on amazon – free! on kindle. Also on Gutenberg. He was an interesting guy – sort of the “Art of Manliness” of the day. Almost like he had only the manic side of bipolar. Quite a few suicides in the family though so there probably is something strange about the brain genetics.
    TR did tell one of his sons to get a desk job after he’d done his tour of duty in WWI and I think his son’s death in that war really hit home to him what the potential costs were of living a non-risk averse life. That and his poorly prepared SA river trip where he came so close to dying.
    In mountaineering, they have a term called “red-lining”. That’s where you see the peak up there and although you probably won’t make it back down in time, it’s just sooo close, you throw caution to the wind and go over the red line of safety. Probably doesn’t help that they’re low on oxygen and not thinking properly – hence the 20 something people that died on Everest that one day back in the ’90’s (people that should have really known better). A great book (Pulitzer finalist) on this is Into Thin Air by the same guy that wrote Into the Wild (Jon Krakauer). Great writer and really makes you understand the psychology behind this mountain chasing stuff.

    Reddit had an interesting post today:

  9. Kellen Says:

    I think accounting is a very misunderstood profession . . . I understand people need something to point at as the “most boring” job, but most of the people I know are doing much more boring, less well-paid jobs, and also sitting at home at night drinking beer and getting fat. Personally, I don’t think it’s much more interesting or valuable to climb a big mountain than to go to your job every day and do well at it. I assume the message is to take risks and follow dreams instead of sticking with something that isn’t your dream…

  10. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I looked at the comments a bit and I do think that the artist was intending to credit the mountain climber over the accountant in THIS case because the child had dreams of something bigger than that. What seals the deal is the last panel that contrasts the snoring man (with the phrase “cold and timid souls” above him) next to the smiling astronaut child (with the phrase “who never knew victory or defeat” above him). In my opinion, he is stating the man in the armchair never entered the arena. What’s ironic, to me, is that the whole quote is bashing critics and yet the artist himself is criticizing life choices based on super shallow stuffs. It is a great quote but a poorly conceived illustration of it.

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