On the tail end of a recent trip to Bali I had a few hours to kill in the Denpasar airport so I went scouting the bookstores for potential new reading material. What I couldn’t help noticing were how many books there were on ‘how to live’. So I opened them to peruse their contents – maybe this was fascinating new information that somehow I had missed in the last 55 years.
But no – it was plain Jane sensible stuff that you shouldn’t need to pay money for – stuff your parents should have taught you!
Make your bed
Think before speaking
Really?… we’re so disoriented as a society that we need ‘rules for life’? (Ok so this isn’t headed where some of you may think – I’m not about to espouse the Bible as ‘rules for life / God’s instruction book’. That would trivialise it – every bit as much as saying it is ‘God’s love letter’ to us. It isn’t at all helpful for me to imagine God writing me a ‘love letter’).
But the abundance – and growth in books of this kind is surely a symptom of a society that is adrift, lost and looking for anchor points. (Of course they need to be anchor points we find palatable… and that won’t disrupt our lives in any way.)
I realise there have always been self help books and some of them have been equally banal in their content – think ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’. But I was stunned at the glut of simple ‘how to be human’ stuff on the shelves this time round.
Interestingly these rule books sit along side other books with titles like ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F#ck’ or ‘How to Not Give a Shit’.
Is that a contradiction I see?
Which do we want ‘rules for life’ or to ‘not give a f#ck’?
Seriously – they are two very different beasts.
My hunch is that a society without anchor points (usually religious ones) will drift towards selfishness and narcissism every time. And my sense is that this is where we have moved to in the West – desperately needing direction of some kind (‘rules for life’) but refusing to surrender our autonomy or any intrusion on our pursuit of pleasure, happiness and personal fulfilment (not giving a f#ck).
It’s a conundrum – you can’t have both.
It seems that those who take their religion seriously – who hold to its core tenets (be they Christian, Muslim or Hindu) will typically live within a set of boundaries that result in less selfish lives and often more fulfilling lives – at the expense of actually giving a F#ck). That’s a generalisation I know – but my observation of a society that has tried to dispense with a religious framework for life is that it isn’t a very happy place to live.
The point of this post?
Simply to say that we did a lot better when we had ‘rules’, ‘boundaries’, whatever you want to call them and that the place you will most likely find these still at work is in a religious community that takes its faith seriously.
If I am my own authority and I answer only to my personal sense of morality then we are gonna come unstuck fast and end in disaster.