QUESTION:

Dear Dr. Cohen,

First off I would like to say thanks for writing your PT blog "What Would Aristotle Do?" 

I have a question for you if you have the time to reply.

You often speak of moderation in your philosophical blog and that this is the way life is meant to be lived for the most part.  Extreme measures are not recommended to live a happy life. A little background on me though. I lost a great paying job about two years ago and was left with not much. Many people including myself would say that I was obsessed with my job and doing it to perfection, which I have now learned is almost impossible. Since the loss of my job I have had to move back with my parents in Texas and now work in a job that pays minimum wage. To say the least I have been a bit on the down side with this for quite some time and because of this I do not go out as much as I was accustomed to; reason being is that it costs money to have most fun and I live quite a bit away from the city where all the hustle and bustle happens. 

What I am now attempting to do is to save up money and work as much as possible to have some money saved up by the next school semester in hopes to start attending school with as little debt as possible. I strive to be a psychologist of some sort but not sure where this path will lead me. With this being said I work quite a bit to save up and also to pay off some debt that, in my earlier years I did not take notice of. I now have to work twice as hard to pay these debts off but have learned from the experience  I would like to better myself and my education to become something but in doing so I fear that I do not have as much fun as I would like. I do not go out as I have said before and it has been 3 years since I have had a relationship with anyone. That's not to say that I'm not a sociable person. I get along with everyone at work; I'm usually the person that everyone comes to for jokes or a conversation. I have made and met many friends at work whom I see only at work; and they ask me why and I let them know the reason. I entertain myself in ways that are cost efficient by blogging, calling friends, sending texts of jokes and emailing friends links of said jokes. I don't involve myself in romantic relationships because I am happy the way I am right now...or so I think. Either way is this type of focus on oneself too much of an extreme to better oneself? I want to have more fun than what I'm having but am not able to afford it at the moment.  Is this type of extreme detrimental or is it even an extreme at all?

I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer if you are able and again I love your blog on PT.

Curious

MY RESPONSE:

Dear Curious,

You have described yourself as having been obsessed with attaining perfection in your former job. To your credit, you now realize that this demand for perfection was unrealistic. However, it appears that you may still be demanding perfection by attempting to save your money to the exclusion of an active social life.  If so, then the answer to your question about whether you’re going to extremes is yes.

How can you tell if you are going to extremes in pursuing an otherwise worthwhile activity? A telltale sign is that you are neglecting other important, even vital aspects of your life. Thus, you have taken work to an irrational extreme if you allow it to interfere with your getting adequate nourishment, sleep, or exercise. The same holds true for saving money.  If this is done at the expense of having a healthy, pleasurable social life, then you have gone to an extreme.      

According to Aristotle, human beings are “social animals” and therefore naturally seek the companionship of others as part of their well being. And, as Baruch Spinoza observes, “men do derive from social life much more convenience than injury."  This human social dynamic includes building and maintaining intimate or close social relationships. Unfortunately, you have decided to avoid romantic relationships, even though it has been three years since you had such a relationship. You have also apparently avoided cultivating friendships outside of the work environment; and your social interactions outside the workplace appear to be largely limited to electronic communications such as blogging, calling friends, sending texts, and emailing friends. These latter activities can all be healthy but they are conducted at a distance and therefore are not the same thing as having face-to-face human interactions.  

You have described yourself as not being an unsociable person; however, as Aristotle also maintained, one becomes sociable by acting, thinking, and feeling sociably.  In other words, you become what you practice. 

Thus Jean-Paul Sartre has maintained that people are the sum total of their actions.  On this view, it is not enough to say that you will pursue your social life later when you have more money.  Indeed, some people, Sartre maintains, end up defining themselves negatively as disappointed hopes, dreams, wishes, or expectations.    

As for the practical problem of not having enough money to socialize while saving for your education and paying off some of your debt, American pragmatist William James would remind you to do what works given the resources that you have.  For example, packing a picnic lunch or taking a walk in the park can be more intimate and romantic than dining in a stuffy, overpriced restaurant or sipping drinks in a noisy, smoky bar. Indeed, if you indulge your creative intellect you should be able to think of suitable, relatively inexpensive alternatives.

Best wishes in your pursuit of happiness. But remember Aristotle’s admonition that there is no virtue in depriving yourself of a fundamental ingredient of the happiness you seek.  This includes having and sustaining an active social life.

Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D.

If you have a life problem question or issue for which you’d like a philosophical perspective, you can post it as a comment or email me at elliot.d.cohen@instituteofcriticalthinking.com

 

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