In Alain De Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy comes a quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche supporting the idea that difficulties of every sort are to be welcomed by those seeking fulfillment.
So sure was he of the benefits that could result from suffering, Nietzche wrote:
“To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities – I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished” (206).
Nietzsche noted, “If only we were fruitful fields, we would at bottom let nothing perish unused and see in every event, thing and man welcome manure” (224).
“Fulfillment is reached by responding wisely to difficulties that could tear one apart. Nietzsche urged us to endure” (230). And – never drink.
“Why? Because Raphael had not drunk to escape his envy in Urbino in 1504, he had gone to Florence and learned how to be a great painter. Because Stendhal had not drunk in 1805 to escape his despair . . ., he had gardened the pain for seventeen years and published De l’amour in 1822.
‘If you refuse to let your own suffering lie upon you even for an hour and if you constantly try to prevent and forestall all possible distress way ahead of time; if you experience suffering and displeasure as evil, hateful, worthy of annihilation, and as a defect of existence, then it is clear that [you harbour in your heart] . . . the religion of comfortableness. How little you know of human happiness, you comfortable . . . people, for happiness and unhappiness are sisters and even twins that either grow up together or, as in your case, remain small together'” (233).
Image from: https://readtiger.com/wkp/en/Friedrich_Nietzsche
Nietzsche himself had a hard life. He was plagued with health problems. He advocated a life among friends, but was profoundly lonely, extremely poor, obscure during his lifetime, and unlucky in love. Wikipedia notes that “In 1889, at age 44, he suffered a collapse and a complete loss of his mental faculties. He died in 1900 from late-stage paralytic syphilis.
May the suffering in your life help you grow in numerous ways.
If you are a woman – especially a “successful” woman – you likely expect yourself to do it all – at home and at work, and to do it with a smile and homemade cupcakes to send to your child’s class. These expectations lead to 60-70 + hour work weeks, kids who are on their own much of the time – or glued to electronics, and a husband you barely see.
“Those of us committed to our careers and our families, who are unable or don’t want to pause or slow down our career pursuits, end up more exhausted, stressed out, depleted, and sick than any previous generation of women,” says Tiffany Dufu in her book, dr p the ball: achieving more by doing less.
Gloria Steinem notes, “Drop the Ball is more than a personal memoir; it’s also a manifesto. I want women to know that their individual problem is a collective one, too. The research is unequivocal: the most complex problems are best solved by a diverse group of people. Yet the highest levels of leadership are glutted with the same type: male, white, straight, able-bodied, and wealthy. This has been true since the dawn of our country two and a half centuries ago. Don’t get me wrong. Like many of our founding fathers, today’s corporate decision makers are accomplished, smart, and well meaning. It’s just that now that it’s the twenty-first century, their lens is too narrow to address gigantic problems like economic inequality, climate change, terrorism, or the decline of America’s educational system. If we care about these problems, we have to care about the women whose help we need to solve them. . . . We need a Drop the Ball movement–not just to prevent working mothers from crashing but to fast-forward history” (9).
Even if you now do not have young children and are in the middle of your career, Dufu provides useful models and ideas for everyone stressed out by all we feel we must do.
Her definition of “Drop the Ball” is – “to release unrealistic expectations of doing it all and engage others to achieve what matters most to us, deepening our relationships and enriching our lives” (xv).
Dufu learned “the importance of focusing attention on the areas where we bring the most value . . . instead of on the areas where we might be better than others because of experience alone. . . . What you do is less important than the difference you make. I could spend my entire life checking off items on my to-do list, and in the end, it would make very little difference. I didn’t want my epitaph to read, ‘She got a lot of stuff done.’ Instead, I had to figure out how I, and I alone, could make a difference–and this was as true for my homelife as it was for my professional one. Where could I be most useful in order to achieve the things that mattered most? . . .
This is the Law of Comparative Advantage: “just because you’re better at doing something doesn’t mean you doing it is the most productive use of your time” (94). . . .
“Prior to my comparative advantage realization, my to-do list looked like this: grocery run, schedule preschool tours, pickup dry cleaning, call Uncle Kenny re: surgery, order Lisa’s shower gift, marinate chicken, review Seattle flooring estimate, get Kofi [her son] umbrella stroller. All these tasks had to be fit into my day, on top of then hours at the office and whatever was on my professional to-do list.
Here’s what happened to my list when I put each item to the comparative advantage test, asking myself if I was working toward my highest and best use by doing the task in question:
Grocery run: No. I could love Kojo [her husband], raise conscious global citizens [her children], and advance women and girls [her job] without going grocery shopping.
Schedule preschool tours: No. The environment where Kofi will spend nearly nine hours a day, five days a week will definitely shape him. To raise a conscious global citizen, I definitely need to attend the tours, but I guess someone else could schedule them.
Pick up dry cleaning: No.
Call Uncle Kenny re: surgery: Yes, I need to do this one. It’s meaningful for my uncle to hear his niece’s voice checking in on him. I want Kofi to know how important family is. Maintaining this relationship is critical. Plus, delegating this task to someone else would be callous.” . . .
Out of the eight items on my original to-do list, only one of them was critical for me to complete myself in order to accomplish what mattered most to me. Only one represented my highest and best use. To be clear, the other tasks on the to-do list still needed to be attended to, and I wasn’t sure how they would all get done. What was different was my perspective: now I was certain I would not be the one to do them all. Instead of eight things I absolutely had to accomplish to be a good worker, wife, and mom, there was now only one task for me to accomplish and seven that someone else could do. For the queen of domesticity with a bad case of HCD [Home Control Disease], this change in thinking was revolutionary! “((95-96).
Also Dufu uses her own experience to model how to “Delegate with Joy” – to speak not just to the ears but to the heart – and more.
Especially for those of you exhausted from all you are expected to do, please look at your to-do lists with new eyes. Are the things you have on that list for tomorrow, for example, really critical in accomplishing what matters most to you? Drop those extra balls!
Images of balls from – https://www.123rf.com/stock-photo/drop_the_ball.html
P.S. Dr p the Ball is listed in the Business Insider article “Eight Books to Read Before You Get Married” http://www.businessinsider.com/books-to-read-before-marriage-2017-4/#happier-at-home-by-gretchen-rubin-1 Check out the other recommendations too.
And I would add to that list The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate – by Gary Chapman.
Even if you are married, it’s not too late to learn good strategies for living and loving. Good luck.
“Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely–make that miraculously–fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result – eventually, astoundingly, and all to briefly–in you” (3-4).
You are a miracle.
– from A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
“We are, by nature, a generous people. Just about every American I know who has traveled abroad and taken the time to have genuine conversations with citizens of other countries has encountered the question, as I have, “Why isn’t your country as nice as you are?” I wish I knew. Maybe we’re distracted by our attachment to convenience; maybe we believe the ads that tell us that material things are the key to happiness; or maybe we’re too frightened to question those who routinely define our national interest for us in terms of corporate profits. Then, too, millions of Americans are so strapped by the task of keeping their kids fed and a roof over their heads that it’s impossible for them to consider much of anything beyond that. But ultimately the answer must be that as a nation, we just haven’t yet demanded generosity of ourselves.
But we could, and we know it. Our country possesses the resources to bring solar technology, energy independence, and sustainable living to our planet. Even in the simple realm of humanitarian assistance, the United Nations estimates that $13 billion above currents levels of aid would provide everyone in the world (including the hungry within our own borders) with basic health and nutrition. Collectively, Americans and Europeans spend $17 billion a year on pet food [my emphasis].
We could do much more than just feed the family of mankind as well as our cats and dogs; we could assist that family in acquiring the basic skills and tools it needs to feed itself, while maintaining the natural resources on which all life depends. Real generosity involves not only making a gift but also giving up something, and on both scores we’re well situated to be the most generous nation on earth [my emphasis].
We like to say we already are, and it’s true that American people give of their own minute proportion of the country’s wealth to help victims of disasters far and wide. Our children collect pennies to buy rain forests one cubic inch at a time, but this is a widow’s mite, not a national tithe. Our government’s spending on foreign aid has plummeted over the last twenty years to levels that are–to put it bluntly–the stingiest among all developed nations’. In the year 2000, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States allocated just .1 percent of its gross national product to foreign aid–or about one dime for every hundred dollars in its treasury–whereas Canada, Japan, Austria, Australia, and Germany each contributed two to three times that much. Other countries gave even more, some as much as ten times the amount we do; they view this as a contribution to the world’s stability and their own peace [my emphasis]. But our country takes a different approach to generosity: Our tradition is to forgive debt in exchange for a strategic military base, an indentured economy, or mineral rights. We offer the hungry our magic seeds, genetically altered so the recipients must also buy our pesticides, while their sturdy native seed banks die out. At Fat Brother’s house the domestic help might now and then slip out the back door with a plate of food for a neighbor, but for the record the household gives virtually nothing away. Even now, in what may be the most critical moment of our history, I fear that we seem to be telling the world we are not merciful so much as we are mighty.
In our darkest hours we may find comfort in the age-old slogan from the resistance movement, declaring that we shall not be moved. But we need to finish that sentence. Moved from where? Are we anchoring to the best of what we’ve believed in, throughout our history, or merely to an angry new mode of self-preservation? The American moral high ground can’t possibly be an isolated mountaintop from which we refuse to learn anything at all to protect ourselves from monstrous losses. it is critical to distinguish here between innocence and naïveté: The innocent do not deserve to be violated, but only the naive refuse to think about the origins of violence. A nation that seems to believe so powerfully in retaliation cannot flatly refuse to look at the world in terms of cause and effect. The rage and fury of this world have not notably lashed out at Canada (the nation that takes best care of its citizens), or Finland (the most literate), or Brazil or Costa Rica (among the most biodiverse). Neither have they tried to strike down our redwood forests or our fields of waving grain. Striving to cut us most deeply, they felled the towers that seemed to claim we buy and sell the world.
We don’t own the world, as it turns out. Flight attendants and bankers, mothers and sons were ripped from us as proof, and thousands of families must now spend whole lifetimes reassembling themselves after shattering loss. The rest of us have lowered our flags in grief on their behalf. I believe we could do the same for the 35,600 of the world’s children who also died on September 11 from conditions of starvation, and extend our hearts to the fathers and mothers who lost them.
This seems a reasonable time to search our souls for some corner where humility resides. Our nation behaves in some ways that bring joy to the world, and in others that make people angry. Not all of those people are heartless enough to kill us for it, or fanatical enough to die in the effort, but some inevitably will be–more and more, as desperation spreads. Wars of endless retaliation kill not only people but also the systems that grow food, deliver clean water, and heal the sick; they destroy beauty, they extinguish species, they increase desperation [my emphasis].
I wish our national anthem were not the one about the bombs bursting in air, but the one about purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain. It’s easier to sing and closer to the heart of what we really have to sing about. A land as broad and green as ours demands of us thanksgiving and a certain breadth of spirit. It invites us to invest our hearts most deeply in invulnerable majesties that can never be brought down in a stroke of anger. If we can agree on anything in difficult times, it must be that we have the resources to behave more generously than we do, and that we are brave enough to rise from the ashes of loss as better citizens of the world than we have ever been.
We’ve inherited the grace of the Grand Canyon, the mystery of the Everglades, the fertility of an Iowa plain–we could crown this good with brotherhood. What a vast inheritance for our children that would be, if we were to become a nation humble before our rich birthright, whose graciousness makes us beloved” (p. 27-30).
From: Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver – published 2002 – and perhaps even more true today.
If we can feed and take care of our pets well, and we do, we could also be making sure the refugees and hungry of the world get sustenance, shelter, and education. We must all do what we can.
Banner: made by S. Klein
Lovebird photo: Jenis
“Ever’thing there is but lovin’ leaves a rust on yo’ soul,” Langston Hughes.
James Mercer Langston Hughes, (1902-1967) an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri, was one of the earliest innovators of jazz poetry.
P.S. The banner photo is of a dragon fruit bloom – planted at our house by Johnny about three years ago. Love surrounds us in the fruit and beauty of nature wherever we are.
Yesterday in my search through a cupboard for a tea bag, I came across two lovely sayings – taped to chai tea bags! I’m sure the tea bags – and sayings – were from delightful Servas guests we had recently. You are sure to like these messages too:
“The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything.” 🙂
“Laughter . . . is a tranquilizer with no side effects.” 🙂
Words of wisdom from Servas guests Doris & Robin of Vancouver & Munich.
These words from Buddha seem wise – and useful – for us to remember today.
“Thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit.
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings . . .
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think so we become.”
Buddha – From the Dhammapada
“The light falls only on the stranger,” an ancient Arabic proverb declares. This saying can mean that individuals are often not celebrated in their own countries – nor in their own families. While familiarity may not mean contempt, it certainly lends itself to disregard. However, one of the joys of traveling allows us to be the stranger – and to see others as strangers.
During these last two months, Barry and I drove from St. Louis, Missouri to as far south as Key West, Florida and as far north as Eau Claire, Wisconsin – visiting family, friends, meeting new people, and having new experiences. We felt the special attention showered upon wanderers. And we were eager to see others.
The proverb points to another way travelers benefit in their wandering. “The light falls only on the stranger” can also mean that the one who sees most clearly – what is special – is often by those who are seeing something for the first time.
It’s a challenge for us all – those at home and those on the road – to see the light that is in each person and the light that surrounds us everywhere. What can you see when you look carefully?
“Compassion isn’t weakness. Compassion is strength,” says John Lewis, M.B.A. CEO and founder of Bad Ass Vegan
From: Thrive Vegan Magazine: Plant-Based Culture, Food, Lifestyle, Athletes, Health, Issue 7, p. 46-47.
During a podcast with Rich Roll, John Lewis also said,
“No one is responsible for your well being . . . take control of your own health,” says John Lewis.
Rich Roll notes,
“John Lewis wasn’t always the exemplary model of health and advocacy he is today. Tipping the scales at 315 pounds by his freshman year in high school, things could have easily gone sideways for this young man growing up in Ferguson, Missouri.
But instead of drugs and gangs, he turned to sports, finding solace and refuge in basketball and football. Honing his skills in both high school and college helped him ditch his fat kid image and triggered his life-long love for healthy living.
Nonetheless, John began experiencing some serious, negative health issues despite maintaining an athletic nature post-college. He sought medical advice and was informed that excessive animal protein consumption just might be the culprit. That advice, combined with his mother’s colon cancer diagnosis, catalyzed an experiment with vegetarianism. Little did he know, that experiment would change his life.
In short shrift, ditching meat resolved his health issues. More importantly, the lifestyle aligned with his values. So it wasn’t long before John jettisoned all animal products from his plate and went entirely vegan.
Needless to say, this was an unlikely move for a football loving gym rat. His friends were not amused.
But John never felt better. The lights went on, opening him to an entirely new way of living and being that brought his life path into focus.”
Be compassionate. Be healthy. Aloha, Renée