What Life Is to Be

Someone reported to me yesterday an article in one of the national newspapers (I didn't catch which one) containing lots of advice on efficiency and effectiveness. One of the more salient tidbits was, I'm told, to think about the purpose of each interaction you have during your day. 'If you're talking to this person just to be kind,' the article could supposedly be translated as saying, 'You should probably skip it.'

Now, this might explain away a lot of the attitudes I see manifest in the way people interact (or don't). But to put things in perspective, a Google search for lists of ways to make the world a better place often has talking to people just to be kind near the top of the list. It's all a question of priorities, of course. If one's priority is personal gain rather than the greater good, then I understand. I guess. The world is a jumble of chaos, and people are living in it for a mess of different reasons.

Sam Keen wrote in To Love and Be Loved that many if not most people go through life seeking substitutes for love: drinking and drugs, sex, financial success. Then we're still unhappy despite getting more and more, because what we're gaining isn't what we wanted in the first place.

It occurs to me that we spend too much time on too trivial things. More and more people these days seem to prefer some sort of digital entertainment to human relationships. (Personally, I prefer books and my garden because they take less energy, but it's all about the elusive quest for balance.) In the 21st century, we institutionalise children and regiment their lives so that they lose the abilities to put free time to good use and to make important decisions for themselves. Then we distribute the interactive devices. (Fortunately, here at least, it's not done before junior high school, so that's one blessing, although they are bombarded with television from infancy. And people wonder why autism and Asperger's Syndrome are on the rise.)

We also happen to live in a society that disdains physical contact. Most people here seem to view the custom of hugging, for example, as repulsive and barbaric, although it's been shown scientifically to release oxytocin, improve mood, and boost cooperation. Instead, the most popular ways of dealing with stress are drinking poison, complaining, and wasting money on a mind-numbing game of hitting little silver balls all over an enclosed space. It's an awful lot of violence to do to oneself. (In contrast to certain other societies, where violence is more frequently directed outward than inward. Neither is better nor worse.)

Stephen Hawking predicts the human race will be extinct within 1000 years. 'Ain't no time to hate, barely time to wait.' Jerry Garcia wouldn't have sung it if it weren't true.