“…it is the sign of a great man, and one who is above human error, not to allow his time to be frittered away: he has the longest possible life simply because whatever time was available he devoted entirely to himself.” -Seneca, On the Shortness of Life (Translated by C.D.N. Costa)
We live in a yes world – a world where people agree to more than can be done by a single person in a single day. Seneca, the great Roman philosopher, knew this truth to be entrenched in society. He recognized that time, not money or energy, is the one truly limited resource which we spend with abandon.
We extend the average lifespan of a human being each day through advances in medicine and rural healthcare. What use is that if people don’t truly live longer? We also push back the average retirement age and promote workaholism, yet society tells us that this is perfectly fine – for what are a few extra years when you’ll live until 90 anyways? Seneca summarizes: “…you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles [–] he has not lived long, just existed long.”
In our yes world, it is rude to tell someone that you have better things to do with your time, and sure, this bluntness is avoidable. But I run against the grain in a society that treats time like sunshine or like the water of the ocean. I can’t help it. It is wise to remember that we do not ‘have all the time in the world’ to do what we strive to accomplish. In an hourglass, grains of sand drop through a narrow hole between two glass partitions. Gravity only goes one way, here on Earth, down into the ground, and so also falls your time. It also stands to reason that grains will slip through your hand, if you try to catch them all. They will pile up if you act like a miser. They will reach your hand and amass themselves until the point of avalanching, and they will fall over the sides of your outstretched hands, into oblivion.
Yet, in a way, we can still remain a yes world. Yes, there are merits to using your time, for if you take Seneca at face value your grains will overflow, useless to all. Yes, we are driven to help other people and mankind thanks those who are selfless enough to donate their time to the lives of others. Yet, this gift, all too often, “is such that they [who give time] themselves lose without adding anything to the others [time]”. In our new yes world we must prove that over the last two thousand years we have learned the art of transferring grains from one hand to the next.
Give these capsules of life from one generation to the next. Give it gladly, if only to teach that any life – regardless of having existed long – is lived long only if one spends their life in extending a hand to another who needs it.
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