“Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health” — Carl Jung
However silly this might sound, I was watching “Downton Abbey” when the realization really struck me. The series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey between 1912 and 1926, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants in the post-Edwardian era. In each episode we witness the days, the drama and the ordeals the characters go through, as well as how those are dictated by social constructs and moral values of the era. The story changes, proceeds and evolves as the episodes go by, but I noticed a common trait that defines all of the family members’ lives;
They are unbearably easy.
Breakfast at bed, tea and newspaper in the living room, evening gatherings, no actual worries, they don’t even dress without their butlers’ help. Relying on their service staff even for simple day-to-day tasks, such as hair combing, they undermine what the ability to care for himself grants a person; joy and satisfaction.
Thus, they end up wandering aimlessly around the Abbey, feeling useless and unneeded. They set their hearts on finding something to occupy themselves, something to give purpose to their days; they just want to do something, anything, to feel useful.
This longing results either in creating unnecessary drama where there is none or in blowing trivial problems way out of proportion to attribute some meaning to them and thus be convinced they engage with something important. They fight over a spoon’s suitability to accompany the night’s soup; they get exasperated by their inability to find a decent gardener; they gasp in unpleasant surprise by someone’s nerve to enter the dining room unannounced.
That’s when it became so clear and obvious to me.
The Crawleys had a huge mansion, vast property, a wonderful wardrobe, social status and recognition, but while this kind of life may seem enviable, carefree and perfect at first, on a second look it was exactly this easy and comfortable life that had rendered their existences pointless, serving no real purpose at all.
“Don’t pray for an easy life. Pray for the strength to endure a difficult one” — Bruce Lee
I felt strongly that our goal can’t be to constantly facilitate our lives to the point of doing nothing. Life should maintain some level of difficulty and challenge. Because an unnecessarily easy life gets really boring and boring things fall short of meaning. And when our lives lack in meaning we get bitter, irritable, resentful, over-dramatic and pathetic.
But the most important effect a dull and easy life has on us is better represented in what occupies our minds. When the amount of effort and struggle is equated to zero for almost everything, then there is no reliable comparison to help us tell the difference between what is of substance and what is an imaginary illness.
We tend to believe that we fight against honourable and important causes, when in fact they may not even be real causes to begin with. And “a person’s worth is measured by the worth of what he values” as Marcus Aurelius had said.
Let’s contemplate on our lives and on how effortless and painless technology, science and progress have rendered them. Firstly, all your basic survival needs are instantly satisfied. You have shelter against nature and wild beasts, your food awaits you on supermarket shelves and you have access to clear water by a simple turn of a tap.
You are warm during winter and cool during summer thanks to your air-condition. Most death causes have eradicated thanks to medicine. Your education and your entertainment are only a click away, available 24/7 on your palm. Travelling is faster and safer than ever. You are in the privileged position to learn, if you wish, more about yourself, about humans, relationships, the world and the cosmos than any man who lived before you. You live in the best period humanity has ever experienced.
Yet, the year 2016, and that’s only a small example, was considered by many the worst year for humanity, just because some famous actors and singers died, which they would do at some point anyway.
We feel rage because the Wi-Fi signal doesn’t reach us in the bathroom, because meat touches the potatoes on our plate, because the flight, that saves us weeks and trouble in comparison to how people used to travel, is a bit delayed. We smash our phones; we throw our meal in the garbage; we rant and complain at employees that bear no fault.
We have everything with ease and that makes us idle and irresponsible, but also demanding and delusional. Excessive easiness nurtures the illusion that we are entitled to everything while we owe nothing back.
While I write these words, social justice warriors come to mind and the trend of pointing the finger to the accuser, even if he speaks the truth, rather than the accused. In our days, stating the obvious is considered reprehensible when it comes to certain groups.
Now, we seek to eliminate everything that bothers us, no matter how irrational our demands are. Instead of making an effort to lose some weight, I choose to silence those that make me more aware of my unattractive, disgusting even, looks. Instead of choosing self-respect, I choose to silence those that remind me of my loose morals. Instead of asking for help to better understand myself, I accuse those that don’t accept my pathologies.
I sincerely believe that all this fuss about shaming and bullying and transgenders and political correctness and I don’t know what else is only the product of a lazy mindset formed by an extremely comfortable, painless and privileged lifestyle that has cost us the ability
- to appreciate what we have and be grateful for it
- to distinguish between what is substantive and what is not, and
- to withstand real pain without melodramatic or extreme responses.
In conclusion, before you protest, before you destroy social property, before you hand out threats and before you deprive people of their right to free speech, take a step back and think again. Be brave and honest, question your true motives, because they may not be as noble as you think they are, and with hand to heart, ask yourself.