Thursday, 18 September 2014
Self Pity And Other Vices
When delving into the philosophy of how best to live life in midlife and beyond, many bloggers stress the importance of remaining productive, being positive, keeping busy, working for others via charitable deeds, and practicing gratitude for everything life hands out, every breath we take, every additional day we are granted. Idleness, self-indulgence, a bout of self-pity, a moan about ’the unfairness of it all’, some healthy self-interest, are castigated as unworthy, foolish, sinful. There’s that little word ‘self’ again. Perish the thought it should get a foothold!
Well, I don’t agree. Not in the blanket, no-deviation-allowed-ever way.
What did the ancient Greeks call a person who takes the afternoon off instead of concentrating on filing her (overdue) tax return? A lotus-eater! A diet not to be sniffed at in my opinion. What’s the point of having reached that famous midlife and beyond point if I’m still flogging myself into a frenzy of activity?
I am looking up poems for tomorrow’s poetry group meeting. The subject is ‘Happiness’, which, according to the advocates of all those virtues mentioned in the first paragraph, is the sure-fire result, if only you practice what they preach.
Guess what, not a single poem on Happiness I found, praises relentless positivity, busyness, rattling through the days on a quest for achievement, aching muscles and a to do list with every item crossed off. A bunch of lotus-eaters if ever there was one, these poetry merchants. They are happiest lying on their back in the grass, watching drifting clouds, their reverie interrupted by the cries of a flock of geese. That’s all they need to set off a train of thought ending in something as fleeting and immaterial as a poetic idyll. (Unless they are enclosed in an attic, starving and warming their hands on the pitiful flame of a candle stub.)
I’m all for it. (The lying in the grass, not starving in a garret)
As for the most vilified sin of all, self-pity, who can say that they are entirely free of the occasional bout? Why is it considered to be particularly disgraceful? I see it as neither a virtue nor a vice, but simply an inevitable emotion. Others may sympathise with our misfortune, but the moment affairs of their own divert their attention, we are alone again, unconsoled. We have to be sorry for ourselves: nobody else can sympathise with us as steadily, as loyally as we, and it is from such sympathy that we draw strength to put a decent public face upon our misfortunes.
I’ll allow gratitude. Aesop, another ancient Greek, said ‘Gratitude is the Sign of a Noble Soul’. But I doubt he meant it in the sense of being grateful for all the nasty surprises life has in store for us. When the people of Delphi sentenced him to death on a trumped-up charge of temple theft, he cursed them. After they’d thrown him to his death off a cliff, the Delphians suffered pestilence and famine.