Of everything that’s happening in life, what really matters? Which things could be very easily left undone and the world as a whole would be none the worse off? Because it’s often seeming that much of human activity could fairly safely be categorised as non-essential; as these essentially frivolous, luxurious or self-indulgent impulses. But does it even matter if what we’re filling our days with isn’t essential?
That’s not meaning things like fun and enjoyment. Cultural and social engagement clearly fulfil many essential functions as well as being valuable in and of themselves: companionship, belonging, the chance to reflect on our lives and the life of society, relief from the pressures and duties of living and all the masks we have to wear on a daily basis.
My point though, I suppose, is about balance. How many of the things we engage with are done purposefully, with an eye to how they enrich our lives, rather than out of addiction, compulsion or release? How much of the non-essential in life is fundamentally some form of self-management to offset the tensions and discomfort of modern life and, perhaps, life itself?
This has clearly taken a turn down a dark alley. Perhaps it’s not easy to ask what’s essential in life. It’s a philosophical question that touches on our belief in society, meaning and the purpose of human existence (Notes One). Does it matter what we do, or should we just enjoy ourselves as much as we can while we’re here? Is there any broader responsibility than simply looking out for ourselves?
It just seems such attitudes, adopted collectively, lead to systems that risk cannibalising the entire planet in pursuit of either greed or distraction. Isn’t our relentless desire for non-essential, disposable items creating mountains of waste and pollution for no good reason? How much of the world’s material and human resources are swallowed up by this kind of activity? (Notes Two)
Beyond that, what does this lead in terms of society? Does all this encourage us to interact wisely and responsibly with those around us and the infrastructures we’re all to some extent depending on? Are we being brought together, inspired to understand one another better, inclined toward healthy and inclusive attitudes? Or is all this making us less human, less caring in our pursuit of self-advancement? (Notes Three)
It just seems that ideas of what’s truly “essential” are shifting remarkably fast. In the past – or, other parts of the world – essential needs might be things like food, peace, shelter, safety, freedom. In the West, minimal standards seem to be creeping up and up; blurring quite profitably with modern commerce. How much of that’s simply “creep”? One thing leading to another until all this begins to seem normal.
Essentials are presumably the basic foundation of life: being healthy, cared for, and ready to engage with the world around us. How exactly that snowballed into what’s now surrounding us is strange to consider; as is the sense of where it’s all headed.
Notes and References:
Note 1: What it is to be human
Note 1: Does anything exist in isolation?
Note 1: What we bring to life
Note 1: The philosopher stance
Note 2: Will novelty ever wear off?
Note 2: Detaching from the world around us
Note 2: Interdependency
Note 2: The insatiable desire for more
Note 3: Do we need meaning?
Note 3: Stories that bind us
Note 3: Reading into social realities?
Note 3: This thing called love