This, to me, is the good life: a strong latte. a book. a pen and some paper. a text editor to write in, and an idea to write of. some code to tinker with. (free wifi.)
Don’t get me wrong, I very much like being thrown into the chaos of the material world. I love working on teams and the fast pace of start-ups. There are times I yearn to put on a business suit and heels and lead high-powered debates and discussions. I like working, with all of its politics and frustrations and setbacks. I’m an engineer, and I like making things. But at the end of the day, undeniably, it is designing the models, not building them, that I prefer.
In the US, I think, there is a huge emphasis on big material accomplishments. We want our most hopeful children to become leaders, and we want to see them move, create, and break things. This, however, is neither suited to nor approved of by everyone. Yet, there is the Machiavellian assumption that it is in fact the most noble and right to sacrifice one’s own self-cultivation to worldy action. Pursuing the Platonic “good life” is tinged with guilt and the malodorus scent of elitism.
Is there shame, in this society, in being an introspective creature? And, if we think so, is a product of Western culture only, or is it so universal that it must be imperative? Is there shame for those who’d rather Think Big than Make Big? Is it selfish and cowardly, or perhaps noble?
This tangent popped into my head on my flight on the way to Paris, which, most definitely, holds a kind of cultural expectation far different from our own. I was sipping some white wine I had gotten gratis (I can’t emphasize it enough…FLY EUROPEAN AIRLINES!) and flipping through some magazine I had picked up at the airport, the French version of the sort of publication I secretly (or not so secretly) really enjoy, along the lines of Glamour, or Elle, or some other probably sexist crap that’s filled with really entertaining probably idiotic love advice, when I happened upon an article with the title “Travailler Moins Pour Vivre Plus!” (work less to live more). We often joke about the French being selfish and self-absorbed (my mom, who went to University in Paris, jokingly said of this to me, “l’enfer, c’est les autres”), but is it maybe self-protection, and if self-protection, is that really selfish in the long run?
In any case, it is worth thinking about. I do not in any way have a definitive answer nor opinion yet on this thought, but I will leave you with a quote that is inscribed on the Berlin wall in the East Side Gallery, which, by the way, is absolutley gorgeous:
“Viele kleine Leute an vielen kleinen Orte, die viele kleine Schritte tun, können das Gesicht der Welt verändern.”
“Many small people in many small places, who do many small steps, can change the face of the world.”