What A Wonderful Lot Of Things…

Socrates was said to have watched the procession of a rich man through the market place with all his goods accompanying him and to have remarked:

” What a lot of things there are that a man can do without . ”

I think he was quite right, but as he was a better philosopher than I, he could manage his acquisitiveness better. In my case I still have desires for some goods and services. These can be got or not, and that can affect my happiness. Soc would possibly frown on this but he isn’t round my place all that often.

I might get his approval regarding riches in another way – I find as I grow older that I can become curious about the possession or use of things but can satisfy that curiosity without actually having the goods – or at least without having them long.

I test cameras out as part of my writing job – also lenses, accessories, lights, etc. This is on a weekly basis as I try to find topics to write about. I’ve had some pretty expensive gear pass through my hands for a week at a time – and have been able to see whether the reality of it matches any part of the advertising hype. There is a responsibility to return it undamaged, of course, and the expectation that I will say something nice – or at least encouraging – about it. I’m relieved that I do not have any obligation to like it or desire it for myself.

And there are many occasions where I do not. I compare it to the equipment I normally use and in many cases find it to be less useful, comfortable, or practical. I can heave a great internal sigh of relief as it goes back onto the storeroom shelf and tick it off my ” desires ” list. Not exactly Socratic practice, but the result is the same.

Sometimes it works the other way, but my purse has the final say and it most often says ” No “.

Note that this is just one division of consumer goods. Other things like clothing, furniture, art, etc. do not even get a look-in. I am warm and dry in clean clothing, inside my own house and that is all I want. I do confess to a small desire for some of the fancier motor cars, but I suspect that if I were to drive them they would not really live up to their price. My Suzuki does.

And as far as the other appurtenances of wealth – gold, jewels, expensive food and drink, exotic travel, entertainment,etc…I am absolutely in line with Socrates.  These items pass my personal radar without registering a blip.

Small confession of sin: I do like book stores. And hobby shops. But in these I restrict my desires to the economic goods and leave the expensive ones for others. And I have just as much fun with what I can afford.

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The Best Of Everything

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I once met a girl – a young woman actually – who in the course of a conversation said that she wanted the best of everything, and was determined to get it. I have never been so horrified in my life.

Not at the young woman – she was a particularly attractive person – and not at the determination, because many people have determination…but at the thought of actually getting the best of everything. It seemed a terrible curse to utter, and I was momentarily in fear that the ghost of J.P. Morgan or John D. Rockefeller would appear and snatch her to perdition.

” The best of everything” argues that there is a best of everything. Everything includes fluffy kittens, gold limousines, and 6-star cuisine…but it also includes rickets, vermin, and minefields. Would you like to be responsible for the finest landmine field in the world?

And if there is a best, there must be a worst. We have all seen the worst television shows ever made and suffered the worst cold known to humanity, but consider the question using the landmine field again. If you were responsible for the worst one ever made would it be because it blew everyone up or because all the landmines failed to go off and they could hold an Irish Folk Dancing festival on top of it?

Coming away from the semantics, though, consider what you would become if you did indeed have the best of everything – there would be nothing better to which to aspire. All ambition would leave you. No delight would steal in to fill its place. Indeed, you would be constantly alert and distressed on three counts:

a. You would be looking to see that nothing better was in the possession of anyone else – making you a prying, purseproud pest.

b. You would be horrified if someone else DID succeed in finding a better thing than you had. And you would obsess about it.

c. You would constantly be afraid that your possessions were falling behind. You would be in a desperate race against yourself and your own fears. You would try to hoard happiness but never feel it.

Now the desire to have nice things is natural, and by extension the hope that we have the very best of some particular thing is a wonderful feeling. It still savours of some of the three objections, but as long as it is only in one small thing, we can generally manage to stay sane. If we do have this one ultimate thing in our lives we would be well advised to deal with the rest of life and most other things on a more relaxed and casual basis.

Far better to have adequate understanding, health, friendships, possessions, and aspirations and to keep on an even keel – we’re more likely to make port safely then.

A Pig Foot And A Bottle Of Beer

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As I draw further away from the pier of employment and move out into the stream of retirement I find that I have been fooling myself for a long time about a number of issues. The extra time available to me to read and sleep has made me contemplative – and I have gained a number of insights:

a. The possessions of others were once a source of jealousy. Not a lot – just a little – but enough to unsettle my appreciation of the things I own myself. It is becoming less relevant now. I can look upon someone’s expensive motor car and feel no pang. Indeed, I have come to realise the delightful utility of my own small sedan and would not trade it for any of the fancier vehicles. I also appreciate the fine public transport facilities we enjoy and the cost to me – nothing during the day –  is a source of real joy every time I travel on them.

b. There are a lot of possessions I once desired that I can now see on a shelf and feel no call to. Even books – my preferred medium of enlightenment- can be seen but left. If they are of stupendous price, as many are, I have a perfect excuse to look elsewhere.

c. A great deal of potential existed in my house and shop that I never realised. Now I find it and can put it to work for better living. There is something wonderful about using a piece of timber that has stood in storage for 30 years in a project.

d. The schedule for doing things has spread out. Each thing I do can be contemplated, done, and appreciated afterwards. Even if it is just doing dishes it can be an accomplishment.

e. People can be very helpful if you approach them properly. Now that I have discovered that I am not suited to be hoity toity, I suspect I never was…and I can be more relaxed in all my dealings. I have no more status to imagine that I am maintaining, and the relief is palpable.

f. You need not eat or drink to excess. Very little keeps the body running well.

g. Other people are in the same boat. The experiences can be common. Retirees can talk to each other.

h. Follies seen at a temporal distance can be charming. When you  young and committing them and then embroiled in arguments defending yourself they are things of despair. Now I can watch others similarly engaged and take inexpensive amusement.

i. Music has outlasted newspapers and magazines as a connector to former times. You can listen to the old-time radio station all day while doing other things and essentially it doesn’t get old. Oddly, stage plays actually outlast motion pictures as a source of dramatic satisfaction in later decades. With the exception of Shakespeare, of course, whose works are used as an instrument of depression by English teachers…

The only things I would currently change are well beyond my fiefdom; increased traffic on roads that are always being dug up and resurfaced, the increased pressure that drugs put on the community, and the vile political economy of religious manipulation. I must cope with them the best I can.