In Praise of The Quiet Life – Free Ebook

A quiet life sounds like an option that only the defeated would ever be inclined to praise. Our age is overwhelmingly alive to the benefits of active, dynamic, noisy ways of living. If someone offered us a bigger salary for a job elsewhere, we’d move. If someone showed us a route to fame, we’d take it. If someone invited us to a party, we’d go. These seem like pure, unambiguous games. Lauding a quiet life has some of the eccentricity of praising rain. Partly, that’s because the defenders of quiet lives have tended to come from the most implausible sections of the community: slackers, hippies, the work-shy, the fired, people who’ve seem like they’ve never had any choice about how to arrange their affairs. A quiet life just seems like something imposed on them by their own ineptitude. And yet, when we examine matters closely, busy lives do often turn out to have certain, strikingly high, incidental costs that we often ignore. For a start, we have very limited control over our time. Once we reach a certain position in society, we may be able to shut down a factory in India, and our every word is listened to with trembling respect within our firm. But what we absolutely cannot do is admit that we’re also extremely tired, and just want to spend the afternoon reading on the sofa. We can no longer express our more spontaneous, imaginative, vulnerable sides. Along the way, we grow strangers to those who love us outside of our wealth and status. Our children see less of us, our spouses grow bitter; we may own the wealth of countenance, but it might’ve been ten years at least since we last had the chance to do nothing for a day. The most famous cultural figure in the history of the West was someone very interested in the benefits that can attend quiet lives. In the gospels, Jesus tells his disciples to take nothing for their journey except a staff– no bread, no bag, no money in their belts– but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. Christianity opens up vital space in our imaginations by making a distinction between two kinds of poverty: what it terms “voluntary poverty” on the one hand, and “involuntary poverty” on the other. We are, in this point in history, so fixated on the idea that poverty must always be involuntary, and therefore the result of a lack of talent. But we can’t even imagine that it might be a result of an intelligent and skilled person’s free choice based on a rational evaluation of costs and benefits. It might sincerely be possible for someone to decide not to take the better paid job, not to publish another book, not to seek high office… and to do so, not because they have no chance, but because having surveyed the externalities involved, they chose not to fight for them. One of the central moments in Christian history came in 1204, when a wealthy young man we know today as Francis of Assisi, willingly renounced his wealthy goods (of which he had quite a few): a couple of houses, a farm, and a ship at least. He did so not through any external compulsion; he just felt that they would interfere with other things he really wanted rather more of: a chance to contemplate Jesus’ teachings, to honor the creator of the earth, to admire the flowers and the trees, and to help the poorest in society. For its part, Chinese culture has been equally reverent towards what it calls, the “Yinshi,” or recluse: someone who chooses to leave behind the busy, political, and commercial world and live more simply, usually on the side of a mountain in a hut. The tradition began in the 4th century A.D. When a high ranking government official named Tao Yuan Ming surrendered his position at court and moved to the countryside to farm the land, make wine, and write. In his poem, “On drinking wine,” he recounts the riches that poverty have brought him. “Plucking chrysanthemums from the eastern hedge / I gaze into the distance at the southern mountain. / The mountain air is refreshing at sunset / As the flocking birds are returning home. / In such things we find true meaning. / But when a I try to explain, I can’t find the words.” There are, for many of us, plenty of options to take up certain career paths that carry high prestige with them. We could have something deeply impressive to answer those who ask us what we do at parties, but this doesn’t necessarily mean we must or should follow these possibilities. When we come to know the true price that some careers exact, we may slowly realize that we’re not, in fact, willing to pay for the ensuing envy, fear, deceit, and anxiety. Our days are limited on this earth. We may, for the sake of true riches, willingly and with no loss of dignity, opt to become a little poorer, and a little more obscure.

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