Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A life well spent (dedicated to Jo Cox MP)

In Awake My Soul , Mumford and Sons tell us that where we invest our love, we invest our life. This is poetic not precise but it chimes with the disconnect I see in hivemind between input and output. Sometimes, I think we would rather deny any relationship between the two.

As part of today's Western culture, I am steeped in the Protestant Work Ethic. Theologically speaking, this says visible, attritional effort is a 'sign' that a person is among God's elect. We must 'consider the ant' and get busy. Not to achieve anything - only God can do that - but in obedience to the bible / our parents / some other inscrutable external authority.

Accordingly, my youthful busyness was divorced from efficiency or productivity. In fact, until the age of about 35, I played cello (for example) because I thought I should. The idea that practising scales might fuel improvement or musical beauty and pleasure was either absent or suspect. Scales. Were. My. Responsibility. The person who looks busyest and gets least reward is the hero, in this tale.

Marriage is a battleground for reality and fantasy, a victim of our failure to invest in the things we expect to pay us back. We behave as if a good relationship will simply occur because in our dreams it materialises thus. Once marriage lands on our laps, we like to think it will sit there contentedly marinading while we pour our energies into having babies, pursuing careers, picture-perfect homes and social lives and whatever else gets us going. Unlikely.

In a different manner, we like to deceive ourselves about the connection between work and money. Clearly, this is more a chaotic than an orderly relationship. And yet, the rich will rarely thank luck, fate or God. Usually, hard work and suffering are credited. Even though hundreds of millions of the overworked live in slums, by accident of birth and a million of our countryfolk depend on food banks. We wealthy love to boast of long office hours and diminished bank accounts, with no acceptance that this is our choice - no time spent figuring out what work we actually need to do to have enough.

And then, we have a Western world embracing Brexit and Trump. Whatever it is Donald poured his life's energies into, it wasn't getting qualified to be a world leader. The dismissal of opinions from anybody with the professional and academic heritage to grasp what Leave would mean was a key tactic of the winning campaign. We are worryingly prone to being conned into making the wrong investment. We scoff at real work, credentials or ability and spend our life's savings on pride and presentation skills.

Mere mortals cannot control the results of our choices - but we can control our choices. Often there is a clear link between input and output (don't pour too many of your personal resources into arpeggios without enjoying their fruits!) Where the link is more elusive, we can at least invest in the things that matter, whether that's social justice or our partner or amateur dramatics. That way, whatever the returns on our investment, our life and love will have been well spent.

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