I guess the Chinese curse is “may you live in interesting times.”
I’m sitting on a train from Oxford to Paddington. I was already on a train from Didcot to Paddington, but the train was stopped in Reading because of a fatality on the tracks. No trains were going on to London. There was a tremendous queue of people waiting to get on a train to Waterloo, so I decided to head up to Oxford to get a bus–when I got there, the trains had resumed. So I’m on my third train of the day and it’s only 9.
Yesterday evening, there were severe delays because someone else jumped on the tracks between Didcot and Swindon. Two fatalities in two days–just two weeks after the London bombings. We definitely live in interesting times. Kind of makes you long for a return to normalcy.
But then again, I think maybe the interesting times are what we need. I’m not talking about the death and destruction, but in between all of this death, there has also been Live8, the Olympics going to London in 2012, and people banding together in the bombs aftermath. Would you rather have stability or peaks and valleys? I wonder.
My mother-in-law was talking to me the other day about growing up in post-war England and how they were better off because they appreciated things more. They lived through decade of rationing and rebuilding. They took nothing for granted. Was this a better life?
Then again, I think about my favourite essay from Emerson’s ?Self-Reliance (well, it’s most people’s favourite Emerson essay I suppose. In it, he says
The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human nature. A boy is in the parlour what the pit is in the playhouse; independent, irresponsible, looking out from his corner on such people and facts as pass by, he tries and sentences them on their merits, in the swift, summary way of boys, as good, bad, interesting, silly, eloquent, troublesome. He cumbers himself never about consequences, about interests: he gives an independent, genuine verdict. You must court him: he does not court you. But the man is, as it were, clapped into jail by his consciousness. As soon as he has once acted or spoken with eclat, he is a committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose affections must now enter into his account.
Would a person with a guaranteed dinner, home, and love “with nothing to perform for” be more true to himself than someone who is deprived in any of these areas? It goes back to Maslow’s Hierarch of needs. Only when the lower basic needs are met, can one achieve higher levels of cognition and achieve self-awareness.
Perhaps in the age of abundance–where we have everything . . . In an age where we complain about “too much choice” . . . When more people have basic needs met than ever before . . . Perhaps in this age we will see the greatest and most enlightened minds emerge.