In my last post, I wrote about William James, Star Trek, and the curious need to struggle toward achievement. I live with a cat named Sir Simon. He is content to sleep most of the day, move from one sunny spot to another as the day progresses, eat at designated times, and get petted as his mood dictates.
Periodically, I observe him and wish I could be content with such a life. I can’t even nap, let alone sleep 20 hours in the day, and I feel guilty lazing in bed on the weekend past a certain hour. It seems to me that my cat has never once experienced guilt and has barely a worry, yet I feel guilt daily and worry incessantly. I envy Sir Simon. I envy his ease of being, his lack of angst, his serenity.
In my last post, I left off wondering aloud what we would struggle to achieve were we to eradicate the great problems that afflict our world and were to live without greed, violence, oppression and cruelty toward others. I suspect many people reading this blog find this question perplexing. Plenty of people have no interest in “struggle” or “productivity,” per se , but rather pursue a livelihood in order to live comfortably and are content with the fruits of modern society. So perhaps it’s just me.
But I don’t think so. It seems that it’s at least partially in our nature – though not solely, as different cultural norms across the globe reveal – to seek and pursue goals and to find the sort of rest that makes my cat content dull, enervating, and ultimately depressing. Beyond our need to work to buy the products that keep us alive, I believe we need to work for our contentment and sense of accomplishment, just like my dog Elsie. Unlike Sir Simon, Elsie would go berserk without things to do, like train for treats, run after Ruby (another one of our dogs), and find smelly things to roll in and share. She delights in a job. Resting is fine, but only after a good workout.
An old friend once had a philosophy professor in college tell him not to “confuse complacency with serenity.” I wonder, is serenity more often a byproduct of work well done, goals achieved, and values embodied? Must we ultimately struggle to find serenity?
I welcome your thoughts.
Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Claude and Medea, and Above All, Be Kind
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