I like the old adage: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I think it’s true. I’ve actually said it before to Handy Hubby and it makes for a pretty effective guilting tool.
But there’s an equally true non-adage I think to be more fitting to most folks in this country currently: “All play and no work makes Jack a jackass.”
Don’t get me wrong please. I do know there’s plenty of fine folks working multiple meaningless jobs just to keep their family afloat. I’m not talking about them. I’m also not talking about those who are seriously mentally and physically suffering, because there’s plenty of those folks around, too.
But I do mean those of us who are in the majority, like me, relatively mildly mentally and physically suffering, still able to get up each day and do stuff.
Here’s my point. There are three main stages in life between birth and death as far as I can tell so far. It begins with Service to Self (infancy, childhood, adolescence), it moves to Service to Others (family, friends, community), and these stage are both motivated primarily by a ‘will to power’. Then, as the third and most crucial stage, we mature into Service to the Greater Good.
Bush’s answer to Americans when starting another insane war was: “Go shopping!” Hillary Clinton claimed: “We have a huge fun deficit in America.” They were appealing to Service to Self.
JFK’s famous quote, encouraging to his future Peace Corps volunteers for decades to come, was an appeal to Service to Others: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
This is where too many of us are getting stuck. And our rulers have designed it this way quite deliberately.
The coup d’état in slow motion we are witnessing unfold now at a rapidly increasing clip has been in the works for many generations.
“Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacity to think.” Neil Postman Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985)
Instead of wisdom years filled with . . .well . . . wisdom, we’ve got Alzheimer’s and chronic fatigue, and a dozen and one other ailments of mind, body and spirit.
The middle aged and elderly, those still healthy enough to have a life, are devoting it to a retirement filled with meaningless pursuits—gambling, cruises, the Shopping Network, or latest sport, game or craft craze, looping right back into Service to Self or Service to Others, without ever maturing into the final, and by far most crucial, stage of life.
Without our wise elders we are doomed as a culture and a society. We don’t need them getting plastic surgery and posting their new faces and evening dining choices on social media. We need them learning from their mistakes, seeing reality through the lifetime of a mature adult, sharing their hardest lessons as well as their greatest gifts. We need them to realize it’s not a popularity contest anymore, to take off the masks once in a while, to call out the bullshit they see, to relentlessly speak truth to power, and truth to youth.
Retirement should not mean a decade or two of crossword puzzles and golf. Service to the Greater Good—that means greater than self and others. Not following orders, not following trends, following the highest calling of the divine Self—the vocation— the will to meaning. It’s not ‘do what you love and the money will come’ it’s ‘do what matters, beyond the money, beyond the need for approval.’
Without examples of this, with so few mature adults modeling this 3rd stage, what do we expect to happen?
Do most of us in middle age now have examples of wise elders in our lives? I have a few, but that’s only because I consistently seek them out. I’d say the majority don’t even know what a vocation is, they see the ‘o’ as an ‘a’.
In fact, a vocation is far more precious. It’s the secret garden where your skill, your joy, your wisdom, and the humble desire for a better future to leave behind, all magically coincide. It’s the sweet spot of life’s greatest magic that only you can offer. It’s the quilt, or the tapestry, or the garden, or the painting, rainbow, symphony—whatever metaphor suits you most— as the scene moves from seemingly random splotches of design and craft, to the point where the image takes shape at last, nearly ready for show and tell.
It’s your life as the willed ephemeral expression of the divine.
But so many are missing this, as it’s been systematically stolen and replaced by entertainment, endless material pursuits, silly vanity, diversions of the Order of Bread and Circus, that if I were a kid today I’d be saying: “Grow up, Grandpa!”