Friday, 24 August 2007

Folk Fest Philosophy III

The last lyric that really struck me at this year's Edmonton Folk Festival was this one:
They thought that living high was living well
Unfortunately, I can't be completely sure which musician sang it, but I think it may have been Harry Manx. To me, this line really sums up the misunderstanding that our consumer-focused society seems to have: that you have to have a lot of stuff to be happy. When I write this kind of thing, I have to be mindful that I do have quite a lot of stuff myself. It is definitely easier to have stuff and say you don't need it in order to be happy, than it is to not have stuff and say you're happy just the way things are.

In saying that, I am implying that the person with less stuff looks at the person with more stuff and envies them, or at least wants to be more like them. But this is also an assumption I'm making. Will people always have to have stuff first before they realize they don't need it for happiness, or can this realization come beforehand? I don't know. It seems like a wise person would know such a thing ahead of time, but a lot of wisdom comes from experience first.

Lao Tzu seems to have been pretty wise -- here is one thing the Tao Te Ching says on the topic:
Holding a cup and overfilling it
Cannot be as good as stopping short
Pounding a blade and sharpening it
Cannot be kept for long

Gold and jade fill up the room
No one is able to protect them
Wealth and position bring arrogance
And leave disasters upon oneself

When achievement is completed, fame is attained
Withdraw oneself
This is the Tao of Heaven
This is essentially the principle of moderation in all things, and an endorsement of the merits of contentment. I like the imagery of the first two lines especially, because they provide a nicely concrete illustration of why overconsumption is unwise. It's easy to imagine overfilling a cup. It's usually done in a hurry, with little care or attention. And it's messy and wasteful too, and it causes a bunch more work in the clean-up. It is a lot more enjoyable and satisfying to pour just the right amount into the cup, and then take the time to appreciate its contents. To be content with the contents. Hmmm....there must be good reason why those words are the same.

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