Sunday, January 20, 2008

Simplicity is "more."

A quote from Philosophy Roundup 2 has been on my mind lately.

We must do all we can do without destroying our ability to keep doing it.

It seems reasonable to restate this to say that when we are in a situation of lacking something - money, time, resources - that we cannot do 100% of what we would like to do. We do not have infinite capabilities, therefore we must expect finite results.

This leads to several dilemmas, the first of which is this: do we try to do as many things as we can less than well, or do we try to do fewer things well? It's the old quantity vs. quality question, applied to our own lives. I think most of us, especially women, have chosen to do more things badly or less well, instead of doing fewer things with better results. That is the whole paradigm of western culture, actually.

But is it really the best paradigm? Is this really the way we want to live, want to run our homes, want to raise our kids - a sort of benign neglect, a half-hearted effort? Knowing we are slighting some things that could be done better simply because we aren't superwoman and don't have all the time and money to do everything we've assigned ourselves to do?

The question then becomes: where do we draw the line?

Withholding a decision is a decision.

Refusing to sit down and look at our marriage, our kids, our homes, our religious duties, our duties to our parents and extended family, and our duties to our community (volunteering and donations) is a symptom that things are out of balance - but we choose to pretend that we "really" just have no choices about what we're doing and how we're doing it.

The result is that we are, in fact, destroying our ability to continue to do things - we're destroying our budget, we're destroying our marriages, we're destroying our children, and we're destroying our faith. Where is the joy and peace that was promised? We try to meet everybody else's expectations without truly sitting down and deciding rationally what expectations can realistically be met with what we have to work with. We are afraid to pull back and do less better - because we've been trained from the start with the idea that we must do more, have more, be more, produce more.

In real life, there is a concept called "diminishing returns." Most of us are past the point of diminishing returns - the things we think we ought to or need to do are making things worse, not better. They're cutting into the joy and peace of our lives, not improving them. They are causing us to have less of a relationship with Hashem, our husband, our kids, etc. instead of better relationships. They are making our budgets worse instead of getting us into the black.

We have let other people make decisions for us, consciously or subconsciously, and our ability to keep going is slowly being destroyed. It's time to stop looking to our friends, our Rabbis, our neighbors, and "the goldsteins" to see what our lives should look like. It's time to ask ourselves, seriously - is this life I'm living right now really giving me and my husband and my kids what we truly need - not what other people say we need, but what we really need in our hearts - what I need in my heart? Is there a better, more peaceful, more joyful way? Am I willing to have fewer things of better quality? Am I willing to do less but do it well?

Or am I so trapped in this box we made for ourselves (or let other people make for us) that I feel that I have to keep on turning out lackluster efforts because I have to keep doing "more?"

But, as Mies van der Rohe said, "Less IS more!"

1 comment:

Garnel Ironheart said...

Or as Rush put it: If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.

One of the reasons the Torah teaches us about the Avos is, according to Rav Hirsch, to show us that whether you're rich and powerful (Avraham), isolated but self-sufficient (Yitchak) or penniless and running for your life much of the time (Yaakov), God is your personal God, available to you as a source of comfort and support.
The Goldsteins, on the other hand, aren't.
In the quiet moments, cultivate your relationship with God. Through your knowledge of Torah, try to determine what He wants of you, not the hoidy-toidy neighbours down the street. Only i nthis way can a person reach deep, instead of fleeting and superficial satisfaction.