Saturday, March 19, 2016

Decisions, Decisions



The Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote:

"We ought not to wait for our spare time to practice philosophy; rather, we should neglect other occupations to pursue this one task for which no amount of time would be sufficient … you might as well not bother with philosophy if you are going to practice it intermittently … Rather than reducing your encumbrances, you should get rid of them altogether. There is no time that is not well suited to these healing studies, yet there are many who fail to study when caught up in the problems that give one reason to study."

I don't think Seneca was exactly on the money with regard to philosophical pursuits (if I had to pick one category of study it would be theology), but the sentiment hits home for me. 

Then there is this from Dr. Johnson (about whom and whose works I must read more):

"When I look back upon resoluti[ons] of improvement and amendments, which have year after year been made and broken, either by negligence, forgetfulness, vicious idleness, casual interruption, or morbid infirmity, when I find that so much of my life has stolen unprofitably away, and that I can descry by retrospection scarcely a few single days properly and vigorously employed, why do I yet try to resolve again? I try because Reformation is necessary and despair is criminal. I try in humble hope of the help of God."

Anyone who knows me (especially via Facebook), knows my obsession with resolutions. Every New Year -- but every Sunday evening, too -- I resolve to be the kind of person I want to be. Redeeming the time, not wasting it. In these days when idleness and sloth seem to be the summum bonum -- the highest good to which our culture aspires -- I feel a special urgency. 

This particular train of thought -- not a new one for me -- was triggered by a lecture I was listening to the other night. The speaker was Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College in Michigan. He said, "You have to have the virtues. When you're young people can help you form the habits of virtue. Good laws can encourage virtue. But it can't be made because you have to do it. Aristotle says the way you become a good character -- and that word character is a very rich word -- it comes from a Greek word that means to etch or engrave -- and the way you get that is you etch or engrave that into yourself and you do it by making a thousand choices, and then a thousand more, and then a thousand more, and making them over and over for the right reason. And his claim is the voice of the good is talking to you all the time. Everybody knows. When you do something that's small, you're aware of it -- everybody does. And he gives an exemption of a case of people who live distorted lives because somebody victimizes them from their youth -- that can happen. But it's not -- it's rare that that happens. Most of us know and the thing is if you listen to that voice, even at pain and risk to yourself, even at the denial of pleasure, over and over again, that eventually that will become the way you are. It will be etched in you. You will have a -- character."

I love that. As a Christian, of course, I would word it a bit differently than Aristotle (mostly noting the reality of the Holy Spirit's role in our sanctification), but we still have to do it. We still have to make thousands and thousands of choices, every day, all the time. We must make thousands of choices before we have lunch! It's a very convicting idea for me -- all the time I waste, all the bad choices I make. I realize that I can't read Dante and Augustine and Plato 24/7. Every now and then you need to watch an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, just to purely relax and be silly (surely occasional silliness can't be a sin). But I don't think I'm in any danger of too much industry!

Much to ponder. I think a wee, small voice is speaking to me.

More later...

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