Balance: Hard Work, Not Harmony and Rainbows

The most basic rule or guideline I keep returning to is the need for balance – and it seems to be the idea that’s easiest to misunderstand. It just sounds so new-age, compassionate, eco-friendly…slackline

Have you ever tried slacklining?

It’s a new sport, basically a modern, climber’s, version of tightrope walking (except it’s not a tight rope, it’s a slack line you try to balance on). It’s all about balance, literally – and walking has never seemed so difficult. Keeping your balance when your “ground” is shifting is more than a little difficult.

Now, that’s the balance we need when it comes to “the ecology of happiness.”

  • No, it does not mean harmony and that the lion will sleep with the lamb and nature is all cute and cuddly.
    It means that we need to take heed of ecological limits, or humanity cannot survive – nor live well in the long term. (Obviously, but it bears saying because the focus tends to be only on the fundamental, negative aspect.) Limits and balance do not, however, mean stepping back, retreating – it really implies a need for thought and creativity.
  • Neither does it mean that “nature red in tooth and claw” is our enemy, and she shouldn’t have started that ‘survival of the fittest’-business if she couldn’t handle it (to use the phrases of Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons”). We may simply be a part of nature, and there may be pretty ugly sides to that – but hey, balance: it’s also fascinating and gentle. We – see above – can also do a lot, but not everything, in and to ecosystems.
  • Good lives (probably) need to balance different aspects of life, too: having success in work is nice, but it alone is probably not even as good as it gets. A nice private life without decent work probably doesn’t, well, work either.
  • Good lives need to balance the individual and the social/cultural – if you try to get happy following your every fancy (to use the negative example), no matter what the impact on others, you’d have to be egomaniac and antisocial not to be bothered by the way society would react. Living only as your parents and teachers tell you, without any regard for your own talents and passion, will be a waste and a road to personal hell, all the same, though.
  • Balance in such a hard work-way is also an issue – an often-overlooked one – when it comes to ways of life, in two further regards:
    1. Given what was just said about environments (limits), cultures and individuals, it is necessary for ways of life to balance along between those aspects – and therefore, to be diverse. One size does not fit all.
    2. Technology and trade often either fall by the wayside when environmentalists talk about the future they see, or are the end-all, be-all of economists and techno-optimists. Given reality – both that of ecological and resource limits and limits to our creativity, and that of human nature, such as desire for the exotic, nice, shiny – what we need to work towards is… you guessed it, balance.

Balance” still remains a word that is all too cute and cuddly; it just sounds good.

Work-Life-Balance,” who wouldn’t want that? – and then we overlook that maybe work is a part of our life (or should be), so the very phrasing leads to a wrong idea of having to hate work, but do it anyways, when actually we need to integrate work into our lives and with what we are and want.

Harmony with nature” sounds so nice – but our environments are changeable, we ourselves want different things, and so we need to fit in so as not to destroy the ecosystems we depend on, but also change what we can so as to have better lives.

There is one simple rule we can use to make “balance” more concrete, though, and it’s so ancient and universal, it feels odd having to repeat it:

Nothing in excess.

We can be confident enough that the extreme positions (and actions) are probably wrong-headed. It’s particularly worrisome today, however, living in a time when only the loudest and most strident voices seem to gain a wide audience.
Still, when that happens, the most radical – “going back to the roots” – idea is the middle. Not the static, napping-in-a-hammock middle, but the wobbling, exhilarating, but also careful, ever more skillful, enjoyable, walk that aims to remain in balance.


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