In the Face of Catastrophe, Live. Live, anyways!

A long-standing observation about us humans is that we like to think that our world is fixed and stable (and even just). As a survivor of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami just said (and as people said after 9/11, as well):

I never would have thought that such a thing was possible.

It’s an equally as long-standing problem in getting us to live within Earth’s limits. At least in Japan, many or most buildings are up to the standards imposed on a country that is regularly – almost constantly, in fact – besieged by tremors. As the tsunami has shown only too graphically and awfully, being rich and high-tech and even preparing for some of the worst one can imagine can still turn out to be no use.

Of course, then, you can’t prepare for everything. In part, survival is simply luck – and need I remind you (even as I don’t want to belittle the tragedy in Japan) that more people still die simply because they were born in a place and situation where life is short and tough, because some basic requirements for avoiding illness are not met – or, for that matter, because they didn’t watch the traffic or even just their steps?

Naturally we would avoid such thoughts. Just as survival, beyond the immediate danger, favors the prepared, however, we would do well to consider such uncomfortable thoughts sometimes, and draw our lessons from them.

Not only survival, but happiness as well, becomes a motivation only when the situation is somewhat extreme. As long as we feel comfortably ensconced in our little lives and without any particular problems, we can just go on. And it’s good.

I find the craftsman or farmer who has learned to love their trade a better example (check out Mike Rowe and “Dirty Jobs”) than somebody who wants “automated income” in order to live without much concern.
Only too often, that seems to translate into a worse  balance between obligations, being “at home” somewhere and finding purpose as it does when someone merely follows social and family pressures. Telling others to live differently when all you do different is travel instead of live in one place, and make your money selling quack or/including e-books on how to live differently is worse, in my opinion (and even as I want to work as an educator) than an honest, down to earth, job.
Likewise, I find a person who lives differently while still fulfilling family duties and being of some deeper purpose (plus being upfront about whether income is made working well or just being a well-known person) a good, even necessary, inspiration. (Check out Adam Baker, Man vs. Debt, for a good example.)

The challenge – and the reason it takes both kinds of inspiration – is that you have to find out yourself if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur, and not an employee, or if you just want to be given your assignments, and not have to worry about anything more than just finding a job.

The thing to learn, from examples, in the face of catastrophe, goes deeper:

Don’t take life and the way things are for granted. Much has been changing, and it will again. There are some stable things – we need to eat and drink, we aim to find happiness, we can work to create a home – but the world changes. And some day, it will be your last, too.

So, if there’s something you feel you have to do, you better work towards it.

The typical problem, however, is that we get so caught up in what our surroundings, our history, whispers to us, it’s hard to see if it’s really the right thing for *us*, personally.

As the former editor of the German version of Psychology Today once wrote,

we all want to be immortal – and then get bored when we have a single weekend off.

And, as the author of the New York Times’ review of the movie Limitless puts it:

Granted the Promethean bounty of unlimited intelligence, what does Eddie do? Just what any other shallow, striving 21st-century American man would be likely to do: make more money, have more sex and write a book…

So, especially in the face of uncertainty, even potential catastrophe, don’t just go for the low-hanging fruit. If you want to be a true human being, more than just a human animal, find that there’s more to life than pleasure and enjoyment, and live and learn as the part of this world you are.

There’s more to life than 9 to 5, true. There’s more to it than fun and games, too. It’s time, especially in these times of uncertainty, to rediscover that our purpose is not just obligation, nor just fun, but something more; a more that we ourselves need to discover and create, even if it means having to smile into the face of catastrophe.

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