I give high school students individual lessons of English. Some of them have asked me personal questions. They are mostly about my age, native place, or alma mater. But they sometimes want to know if I have a personal motto.
This question has been troublesome for me because until recently I wasn't convinced that I needed a motto in order to live. The situation in which we are placed can change unexpectedly. We have to change ourselves according to the present situation. However, a motto is a personal law that we have to live by in any situation. If so, having a motto runs counter to living well.
So my answer to the question from the students was "I have none." When they heard this, their typical reaction was to avert their eyes from mine and look disappointedly at their desk. They had wanted to be impressed. Then, as their teacher, I should have one, even if I don't live strictly by it. And preferably an English one.
What underlies my negative conception of the motto is the realization of the plain truth that we cannot know beforehand what the future holds. But, come to think about it, maybe I can think of a motto that reflects this truth. Then, what would it be like? My tentative answer is "But be brave." These words have entered my mind after I read one of the novels by Kazuo Ishiguro, When We Were Orphans. Is it not bravery that we need when we are faced with the inevitable uncertainty but have to live without being paralyzed by it? This is how I feel now. Of course, the question "What is bravery?" remains to be examined.