The human being is born with an inclination toward virtue.
Musonius Rufus, Lectures, 2.7.1-2
I remember the very moment I moved from the religious segment of the population to the non-religious segment of the population. My family is Catholic on my mothers side, and I spent a decent amount of my childhood doing all of the traditional things: Sunday school, religious readings, countless church ceremonies, and painfully long services during the holidays. In general it seemed fine; it was even fun sometimes. And then one day it came time for First Confession, and I just did not understand the concept.
Why does everyone assume they are bad? Sure, maybe we have done some stuff we regret and we may want to talk about it, but why is the assumption that I need to confess that I did something wrong? I mostly felt like I was just being a pretty normal kid that did normal kid stuff. What was wrong with that? And then I started thinking more about original sin, and it pushed me away even further. Everyone is a sinner because someone screwed up thousands of years ago? That doesn’t even make sense.
But what Musonius Rufus says above does make sense. We are born with an inclination toward virtue. Evolution favors those who are willing to work together and be kind to each other. Our default mode of operation when we are born is to not be an asshole; that is something a few people learn along the way. That means there is hope in this too. You were born good. If you are no longer good, or perhaps just not as good as you would like to be, you have simply deviated from your baseline. It is not your destiny. It is a matter of seeking out better ideas and behaviors, and then spending the time and energy to focus on returning to the original you.
Aren’t you ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnants of your life and to dedicate to wisdom only that time can’t be directed to business?
— Seneca, On The Brevity Of Life, 3.5b
“I’m so busy! But it is better to be busy than bored!”
Hang around me long enough and you’ll eventually hear me say this. It is like a catch phrase. And, to a certain extent, I think there is some truth to it: I would rather have too much interesting stuff to do than not enough. I honestly don’t remember the last time I was actually bored.
However, I started to introspect this earlier this year. Sure, I’m busy. Everyone is busy. It is a chronic problem in America. Can I stop being busy? Am I busy with the right things? Also, if people are so busy, how do we find so much time for Netflix, Youtube, Facebook, and so on? Most people delegate their reading activities to be occasional, or a few minutes before bed when their brains are already tired, but this is backwards. We should make time for the important things, and that includes time to “dedicate to wisdom.”
Stop being busy, and stop making excuses. Take a look at where you spend your time, and be intentional about dropping things that do not add value and maximizing time on the things that do. In particular, make time for thinking about the biggest questions in life so that you are always working towards some answers.
Nourishment of your mind and soul are not second to anything else. Focusing on them will pay dividends into everything you do.
Some parting thoughts on this concept:
- Reserve for yourself the lion’s share. Tend your own garden, and then give the rest of your time graciously to those people and things deserving of it. The remnants are for things that don’t matter, not the other way around.
- Everyone has time to study philosophy. Maybe its a podcast while you are in the shower, a Youtube video on the toilet, a book before bed time, or an hour every weekend. The time is there, you just need to make use of it.