Our modern culture proclaims with all its force: What you do and what you have are the most important things. This is a lie. It is a deception that has led whole generations down the well-trodden path toward lives of quiet desperation. But it is a lie that is reinforced with such regularity that we have grown to believe it, at least subconsciously, and have shaped our lives around it.
Two of the most common tools of social judgment are the assessment of what make and model of car you drive and the question “What do you do?”
The whole focus of our culture is on doing and having. I get on the plane, and nine out of ten times, the person next to me will ask me, “What do you do?” We ask young children, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” and seniors in high school, “What are you going to do in college?” and college graduates, “What are you going to do now that you have finished your studies?” We live in a task-oriented culture. But this task-oriented approach completely ignores our need to connect the activities of our daily lives with our essential purpose.
Doing and having are natural, normal, and necessary aspects of our daily lives; the challenge is to do and have in accord with our essential purpose.
In this task-oriented culture, one of the real dangers is to slip into an episodic mode of living. What I mean is, the happenings of our day-to-day lives can become episodic, one after another, like the episodes of a soap opera. In a soap opera, there is always something happening, but nothing ever really happens. In every episode there is drama—activity takes place, words are muttered, but nothing really happens. People abusing one another, people using one another, people talking about one another, people plotting and scheming, but nothing meaningful ever happens. Their lives are filled with superficialities, and they are constantly restless and miserable. There is no theme, no thread—just another entertaining episode.
When the days and weeks of our lives become like this, we grow depressed, disillusioned, and miserably unhappy. The reason is that without a clear sense of the purpose and meaning of our lives, the emptiness is overwhelming. We try to fill the void with pleasure and possessions, but the emptiness is unaffected by such trivialities. There are moments of pleasure, but they are brief in a long succession of twenty-four-hour days.
From The Rhythm of Life
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