The Refined Art of Living

Ian Doulton sdb

‘Living in style’ is not the prerogative of the affluent. It is your interest in your own ‘personal development’ that will accrue from all the effort you make to contribute to your own refinement and will make of you a valuable asset to the community, the province, the congregation and society at large.

One of the greatest experiences any of us can hope to have, especially as priests and religious, is the effect our influence has on those around us. To persuade someone that we have a good idea, to persuade someone to listen to us, to offer some effective advice, to be able to influence someone to follow a way of life, is not just an awesome experience but also an opportunity to affect another life. Influence is one of the greatest of life’s experiences. At whatever stage we are in life, be we novice, cleric, student, priest or brother we have all, in some respects, the opportunity to influence someone else. The key is to develop the skills to do this. It is one thing to do it casually, to do it haphazardly and quite another is to do it on purpose, by learning the skills. This is only possible if we have some clear ideas - but how do we acquire these clear ideas? How do we develop a truly exceptional life that will influence others?


In order to influence someone, strive to live a truly exceptional life. It is when you cultivate acquired tastes in the arts, literature, history, music, culture and other such disciplines that you learn to live uniquely and so influence the lives of others. You may employ all the strategies of personal development and reach the top of your field but if you neglect refining yourself, you miss the opportunity to influence people by the person you are, and by what makes you ‘tick.’ Cultivating a uniquely refined life is not to be mistaken for living the rich and famous lifestyle. They throw a lot of money around and try to buy refinement and culture but the rough edges of that superficial sophistication soon begin to show. Culture, refinement and finesse are not bought they are acquired with industry and perseverance. In short, do not imagine that it is out of place for a religious to be refined and even cultured. In fact, if there is one category of people that needs to cultivate a unique culture of refinement, it is us religious. How are we to influence people unless we are refined, competent and cultured? If we are not so, we would at best be mediocre and we would possibly be pitied by those we serve because of our lack of refinement and culture. Actually we are blessed with an education, access to so much information and such tremendous opportunities but what do we have to show for it? We need to tap into this vast storehouse of resources to cultivate a refinement that is unique to each of us. Even a person of modest traits, talents and average intellectual acumen can design for himself a life that is uniquely refined. Were our counterparts in the world placed in our situation they would eagerly exploit the resources we possibly leave lying around for want of motivation or direction. Therefore, let us not fool ourselves into believing that we are ‘poor religious’ and so are dispensed from this quest when there is so much that we have been ‘given.’

One of the earliest lessons that I learned in this regard was from a wise old professor who told our class: Don’t just learn how to earn, learn how to live! And that’s what refinement is all about - learning how to live. It is one of the great challenges of life: being happy with what you have while in pursuit of what you want. I have found it a practice well worth exercising with skill, given the opportunities that are afforded us. Now consider this, some of us are blessed with several talents and qualifications and everything else but there is nothing that urges to use what we have learned or acquired in the service of those we work with or work for, thus leaving us disgruntled, dissatisfied and disillusioned instead of feeling satisfied, fulfilled and happy. Others have all the opportunities going for them but they have trouble finding joy in what they do. It is not what you have and how much – it is what you do with what you have and how you do it. Many of us can do much with the little we have while others practice the laid-back attitude of letting life slide while simply hanging on for the ride. That is why our ministry sometimes suffers for a lack of vision or we fail to have an impact on our people due to the paucity and the poverty of our ideas. Dare then, to think big and work towards grasping the opportunities that come your way everyday and in the process, experience the joy that comes from the awareness of the greater person that you are becoming.


If you want to effect some change you need some inspiring ideas – and these ideas are not that far away. Here’s a good catch phrase: everything you need is within reach. The famous Bible verse is useful even to approach this subject: “Seek and you will find” – meaning by that, if you seek, you will find. We don’t find what we need we find what we search for. Needing is not the prerequisite for getting value. In order to be someone who desperately needs you must be a person who desperately seeks. Only if you seek, if you try, if you take the trouble to go out and ask, if you listen, there are ideas within your reach, and these ideas are life-changing. There is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come; an idea for effective teaching, better organizational or managerial skills, an idea for your ministry, for a project or for your good health. All you need is the refinement of a single idea to impact your life. At this point, you probably have time to yourself, it’s the holidays and it’s time to go and gather treasure, resource and skills. Once done, it won’t take you long to notice a significant difference in the person you are becoming.

Quit complaining about the state of things in your community, your confreres, your education, your surroundings, your opportunities, they are all part of the fabric necessary to weave the tapestry of your life. Start making changes; process and evaluate whatever you imbibe during this time. You cannot imagine what can happen in the short span of a summer vacation. Do yourself a favour; develop yourself little by little, your style of perceiving, giving, sharing, enjoying and refining yourself. It’s not the amount that counts, but the refinement with which you choose to live your life. This quest will eventually lead you to influence those around you and it is reserved for those who are willing to study and practice the finer things of life. Mortimer Adler, the philosopher said: If we don’t go for the higher tastes we will settle for the lower ones. It is a worthy quest - to develop an appreciation for refined tastes; an appetite for the unique things of life. Study this art and reach for the best. All you are expected to do is to do the best you can in the time available to you.

About a decade ago we could have been excused for not finding enough opportunities to better our skills but today we have been blessed with several avenues and with the internet, that ‘worldwide’ gateway, we are presented with so much that is on offer. For us, in the city of Mumbai there are so many opportunities available and - as the saying goes - they are ‘only a click away.’ – With an eye to offering you something constructive this summer I thought I would offer some of my ‘web’ ramblings:

Music, Theatre and Drama
Staging plays is an integral part of Salesian pedagogy, our educational system and an effective means of conveying a message but sadly most of our skills have been handed down to us from a senior confrere to a junior…and with very little imagination or creativity. There is so much else available if we only look a little beyond our own surroundings. At you will find the entire programme of performances available at one of the many theatres on that campus. Find out what suits your tastes and your timing and make a booking. Expose yourself to the arts and culture and see what it does to you. Some of the ideas you pick up at the performances or workshops could better the quality of the plays you stage and besides, you would meet interesting people who would probably be more than willing to lend you a hand.

To study drama and theatre techniques also visit: and you will find their summer workshops and other training sessions that are organized at other venues in the city too. They also have a schedule of programmes throughout the year with titles that might suit you. Never think you are the last word on musicals or theatre or that what you have achieved so far is good enough. It’s a question of extending yourself and raising the bar for yourself and your institution’ but it’s all a question of taking that first step.

Teaching and Learning English and Library Facilities
The British Council (both in Mumbai and in Pune) offers courses in the teaching of English. Since most of our city schools have English as a medium of instruction and many of us teach English, it would be a good idea to acquire some new methods and skills. Visit and find out what’s on offer in a city near you. In this connection there are courses in personality development and public speaking or if you are interested in conducting language courses. You could visit and see how they do it. Take part in one of their workshops or seminars and then try them out.

A Sense of, and a respect for, History and Culture
Wherever we find ourselves, it is always a sign of culture and refinement to have a sense of, and a respect for the history and the culture of the place. We would do well to find out details of the history of the place where our institution is located. For instance, in the city of Mumbai there are guided tours called ‘Fort Walks’ or ‘Heritage walks.’ If you care to take a walk that is guided by someone who knows the city and its history visit All you have to do is to book a Sunday morning ‘Fort Walk’ whenever it is available. There are certainly similar ventures in other cities where we work. It could be an opportunity to visit parts of the city that you may have never explored before.

Remember, it’s not the amount, it’s the imagination - it’s the style. Just be aware of how easy it is to put some refinement into your life. Make sure you don’t pass over these opportunities or you will miss out on something that could enhance your perception of the city in particular and life in general. It would certainly help you to live your life in a more refined manner. Again, I need to clarify that ‘living in style’ is not the prerogative of the affluent. It is your interest in your own ‘personal development’ that will accrue from all the effort you make to contribute to your own refinement and will make of you a valuable asset to the community, the province, the congregation and society at large.


One last point: a life of refinement is also life of balance. Make sure you give equal attention to all the dimensions of your life. The good life is an acquired discipline, a determined quest and a constant exercise. The good life comes from a sense of refinement and it is developed regardless of anything else. It provides you with a constant sense of joy in living which will fuel the fires of commitment towards all the disciplines that you embrace and all the fundamentals that make life fulfilling and worth living. What is wealth without character, industry without art, quantity without quality, enterprise without satisfaction, possessions without joy? Become a person of culture in order to be an asset to the community, the province, congregation and the world at large. Become a person of unusual substance who brings an added measure of genius to yourself, to the work you do, to the next generation and the generations that follow so that they will be the beneficiaries of the treasures you bequeath to them. That is ‘influence!’

The concluding story
In conclusion here is the story of a man who took a pile of rocks and in a couple of years turned it into a beautiful garden? A few years later a man toured the garden and he thought it was fabulous but he wanted to make sure that the gardener didn’t take all the credit so when he had an opportunity to meet the gardener after the tour, he shook his hand and said: “Mr. Gardener, you and the Good Lord have this beautiful garden here!” He said this to get his point across. The gardener said: “I understand your point, sir. If it wasn’t for the seed and the soil and the miracle of the seasons and the sunshine and the rain…,” he said, “certainly there wouldn’t be any garden here at all. But…” he added, “you should have seen this place a few years ago, when God had it all to himself!” I like the punch line, and the reason is that we do have a part to play to help work our own miracle. I hope that what I have said above has given you a little nudge to work some new miracles in your life - beginning this summer.

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