Perhaps because of the changing seasons, both within and without, I’ve been feeling the need to move on. While visiting with some friends, I found out that we share this urge to look beyond our current circumstances. There’s some sort of youthful angst driving us to leave home and explore the world while we are still able.
Some of us have been on a lifelong journey in search of joy and deeper satisfaction beyond the superficial pursuit of material luxuries and physical enjoyments. Some of my friends are just now coming to this sort of existential crisis as they have come to the end of a career or have been laid-off as a result of outsourcing and/or automation of their jobs.
Last month, Jorge and I discussed the individual and mass existential crises that people in Western civilization are suffering. There are tremendous challenges facing humanity.
Such problems as global climate change, the fascification of domestic and international institutions, civil and human rights abuses, and so forth, are present. Meantime, most of the planet’s citizens seem apathetic about the fate of future generations. Perhaps this is the way most humans have behaved throughout the ages?
Most of the Western nations have developed our economies and ways of living to the point that few of us have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the World. Certainly there are doctors, scientists, and infrastructure workers who provide necessary labor and vision for civilization. At the same time, much of what is marketed to us are technologically advanced toys and pasttimes. Much energy is spent in our enthusiasm about the latest celebrities, gaming, films, gadgets, and gossip.
Jorge and I have long opined about the parallels between modern Western culture and that of the Ancient Roman Empire. We follow and enjoy the good versus evil games on our electronic devices and televisions. We don’t need to travel to the coliseum to witness the latest gladiator contests. The political tool, called “bread and circuses”, worked effectively for the Roman ruling class as they maintained their control and power over the minds of the people. Bread and circuses kept the Roman citizens fat and happy all the while that they were fleeced and sent off to plunder the rest of the World.
Jorge mentioned something that is integral to the power of bread and circuses, the monkey trap. When wildlife poachers wish to capture monkeys, they fashion a very simple trap. You take a coconut shell or a small, sturdy container, cut a hole that is just large enough for a monkey hand to fit through it. Place a tempting morsel inside the trap, then attach the trap to a tree. When a monkey decides to take the morsel, he can’t remove his fist from the small hole, because the hole is not big enough for a fist, only an outstretched hand. Because of his greed, the monkey will not release the morsel to escape the clutches of the poacher, who carries away the monkey to his fate. Do you see the parallel?
Some of us have actively opted out of much of the bread and circuses and many, but not all, of the monkey traps. We are still ensnared in some manner. We might not be able to release the morsels from one or more of our own monkey traps. There’s always the promise for better morsels if we promise to hang on a little while longer.
Even if we’re able to shun mass media and the allure of gadgetry, many of us still have other ties. Jorge and I both have concerns and obligations to elderly parents. We don’t wish to simply warehouse our dads inside of a nursing home while we go about entertaining ourselves in far-flung paradises. Yet, we feel the squeeze between our obligations and the knowledge that our own windows of opportunity can slide shut at any time in the future.
A large part of us desires to take care of obligations because we know we’d be unhappy if we didn’t do so. But another part of us simply wants to move on.
Maybe some of us feel that we’ve over-extended ourselves during our lives. We’ve come very far down life’s path. We feel that we can go no further so we are being asked to give up our life’s journey and walk away from the situation all together. There’s a feeling that we’re giving too much, but not getting very much in exchange. Then we feel guilty for harboring such thoughts.
There are other people who believe that life is just fine and dandy. They can’t or won’t imagine the situation changing at all. Yet, there is some inner voice urging for a radical change on life’s path.
You look around at your family, friends and peers. You understand that your friends are not be pleased with the lives they lead. You wonder if they are not satisfied with the bread and circuses games of life. They have found themselves ensnared within the monkey traps they own.
It is at this point that we become pragmatic yet reflective at the same time. There are no bootstraps with which to pull up ourselves. They only help us to pull on our boots so we can continue down the path, while we ponder our true selves and our relationships to the people around us and society, at large.
By a positive or a negative decision, or by default, we will simply move on.
The Blue Jay of Happiness hopes your self-reflection doesn’t devolve to self-obsession. You might consider the urge to move on as the start of your journey of discovery and adventure, inwardly and outwardly.