Approaching life, in the general or the specific, we can stand back to think, dive into action, or some degree of the two. We might become paralysed by the complexity of trying to understand; or swept up by reality, carried along with its preconceived notions. Finding the right balance, the best way to honour our capacities for thought while actively participating in the life of society cannot be easy.
Life isn’t straightforward: this blend of ideas and actions; intentions, impacts and conclusions; relationships and patterns of behaviour. Then there’s chance or luck thrown into the mix. In a way, we’re born into situations that bear with them history, consequences, responsibility, guilt; social and personal circumstances we have to work through, make our peace with, or rework as we see fit (see Notes One).
Then, in terms of modern life, there’s the unique and almost overwhelming change brought about through technology and all the ways it’s altered how we live, relate, and understand the world around us (Notes Two). The volume of what can now be known and cared about is of a vastly different scale from what’s gone before, as is the means by which it’s communicated.
With all these things, it’s easier to question the value of taking time to think. Where are the boundaries to your thoughts; where do you draw the line between what concerns you and what you don’t have time for? And where does thought lead: can it change anything, does your understanding matter, or are you engaged in futile contemplation while others act to their advantage?
So often we’re told, “This is how it is”. This is society, the paths it’s taken, the values initially at its core (even if their application has drifted so far as to be almost unrecognisable, at times), and the things it has to offer. We might be largely shaped to fill the roles society has in mind for us through education, culture, advertising, and the like; and it may well be that philosophy or ethical concerns don’t sit easily with it all (Notes Three).
Of course, social systems must be based on a degree of certainty in what we’re doing. That’s their essence: the idea of being the right way to organise our lives, and the benefits that offers us all in the long run. That conversation happened a fair while back, when the great or influential minds of that time battled over their ideas and the power to execute them.
But then do we just sit back and trust in how things are, accepting the outworking of their original understanding? Surely an intelligent society should seek our intelligent involvement, rather than our passivity. Maybe these systems are clunky, filled with inherited patterns of behaviour, seemingly difficult to shift from the trajectory on which they were set, but where does that lead?
In the face of life, the balance between action and contemplation in forming a useful, valuable and wise response seems so crucial for our shared realities.
Notes and References:
Note 1: The human spirit
Note 1: Responsibility in shaping this reality
Note 1: Ways of living & those who suffer
Note 2: The potential of technology
Note 2: Modern media and complex realities
Note 2: The web and the wider world
Note 3: Ideas around education & responsibility
Note 3: Culture selling us meaning
Note 3: How it is / Selling out
Somewhere between thought and action we find the release that is humour, as explored in We may as well laugh.