Following on from last week’s musings, this week I’ve decided to inaugurate a new feature for the blog: the everlasting thread.
The goal for this is to be a specific place for open discussions – a home for rambling musings, and reflections on issues related to limerence but not exactly relevant to the more formal articles. A LwL coffeehouse, if you will.
Rather than just throwing things open with a hearty “welcome, what’s on your mind?”, I thought it would good to kick off the discussions with a talking point of some sort. A conversational seed to get things growing.
For this first installment, we’re talking purposeful living.
Life is full of challenges
It may have come to your attention over the last few years that life can be full of challenges. There are large forces outside of our control that can shake the foundations of civilisation – disease, war, economic collapse, environmental collapse, cultural schisms.
In the face of such forces, our own concerns seem trivial. Maybe we’re wrestling with a distressing bout of limerence… but we’re not literally fighting for our lives. Worrying about an emotional crisis can seem quite self-centred – even narcissistic – when other people are struggling to feed their families.
This “big picture” perspective can also make purposeful living look a bit petty. Oh, are you not feeling fully all empowered and motivated and self-actualised? Poor diddums. How about you think about other people’s real problems and try and solve them instead?
How to solve big problems
It’s an understandable sentiment, but there is a bit of a problem hidden within it: how do you solve problems as big as a pandemic, or a war, or cultural polarisation?
Obviously, there are lots of possible answers to that question, but taking a sociohistorical view there seem to be two main attitudes that have shaped the discourse over the years.
Camp 1 believes that social systems become corrupted over time, and that we need to use human ingenuity to continually revitalise and reimagine them to make progress. Without renewal, society devolves into a racket that serves the needs of the powerful. That leads to inequality, mismanagement and cruelty.
Camp 2 believes that social systems are incredibly complex and delicate networks that can be broken far more easily than they can be improved. Without conservation, the hard won wisdom of past generations will be lost in the egotistical delusion that we know better. That leads to moral vanity, degeneracy, and civil disorder.
The real difficulty, of course, is that both camps are correct. Corrupt plutocrats do rig systems to suit themselves, and twenty year old activists don’t know how to create utopia – no matter how earnestly they want to.
What can any one person do?
We all of us have to navigate this central dilemma: how to manage our own life and our own personal difficulties, while also being a worthwhile member of society. This is where the tension between private purpose and public service comes from.
For people who believe wholeheartedly in the “camp 1” vision of society, purpose would be found in activism – the system needs to be fundamentally changed to make life better for everyone. For people who believe wholeheartedly in the “camp 2” vision, purpose would be found in personal transformation – if you are struggling in the current system, it’s a sign you need to improve your skills and provide more value.
Bluntly: blame the system or blame yourself.
The voices arguing these two perspectives on social media are growing ever louder and more intemperate.
Rather than add to that noise, I’m going to propose a point for discussion: I don’t think it matters who is right. Whether you relate more to camp 1 or camp 2, the best response for an individual is always to focus on improving yourself.
Here’s the basis of my argument: if you concentrate on developing the self-awareness, honesty and integrity needed to live with purpose, you will be a better member of society too. Focusing on yourself is not petty or narcissistic in the face of global challenges, it is, in fact, the best chance you have of weathering those challenges.
If, in contrast, you set aside your own needs and live according to other people’s priorities, you are likely to be more vulnerable to manipulation, more prone to resentment and anger, dissatisfied with life, and generally less emotionally resilient.
Purposeful living doesn’t just protect you against your own emotional trials, it also equips you to work with others to build a civilisation that allows free people to thrive.
So, that’s my provocative opening salvo for coffeehouse chat. What d’you all think?