I have long yearned for progress in people’s attitudes about each other to at least match our progress in technology. In spite of many years of seeing some major advances in human and civil rights, I cannot help but notice the actions of those who wish to wipe out these improvements.
My friend Sam and I were discussing this topic the other day when the subject of the upcoming Presidential Inauguration and what it means for civil liberties came up. He used a word that perfectly illustrated the snail’s pace of reform and the efforts to strongly oppose it. Sam said the setbacks are vexing.
I have not heard anyone use vexing during conversation for many years. It’s a word I remember hearing in my younger years during powerful college lectures. My mathematics instructor and my philosophy professor were quite fond of using the word when they wanted to emphasize a major, troubling concept.
Vexing is a more powerful word than “frustrating” or “annoying”. The latter two words are greatly overused in our culture. However, their overly casual use is not vexing, only bothersome.
Because the word “vex” is so seldom used, when it appears in communication, the message seems almost antiquated, scholarly, or spiritual in nature. It’s a word that should be used more often but should not be dragged into the popular lexicon or spouted out as slang so it doesn’t suffer the same fate as “awesome” or “fantastic”.
To vex or to be vexing seems best suited to problems of an existential nature. Vexing problems are those difficulties that have hounded humanity since the dawning of civilization. The questions our species has had that are not merely troublesome, bothersome, or frustrating. Vexing problems are those that have caused unhappiness of humans through several generations and seem to have no solutions.
“There is no truer cause of unhappiness amongst men than, where naturally expecting charity and benevolence, they receive harm and vexation.” – Francois Rabelais
We are living in a cultural age that illustrates perfectly those words expressed by Rabelais. I don’t see any end to it in my lifetime. In fact, even people who have a generous and positive nature are awakening to the sense that our nation and the world are entering an especially dark era. What are we to do about it? How will we cope? These are the gigantic questions we face.
The vexations are about to become more numerous.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Galileo Galilei. “It vexes me when they would constrain science by the authority of the scriptures, and yet do not consider themselves bound to answer reason and experiment.”