Loving Solitude and Being Married–A Few Reflections
In my series of posts on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, I remarked last time how love willingly gives up certain freedoms, and I ended by saying that focusing too much on the freedom I have to give up for my family diminishes my love for them.
Let me make this more concrete. I have an intense drive to create things, whether books or pictures or music. Additionally, I am an avid learner who loves to soak in information, grapple with concepts, and philosophize. If only I had time, I would read all the books in the world, see half the artwork in the world, and watch every good movie in the world. Not to mention stage productions. I love culture. Much, much more than small talk. I am an introvert who would choose solitude over company most of the time. But not solitude in a single place for a prolonged period of time. Traveling and exploring new places are some of my favorite activities, as long as I can do them alone (usually at least). I am hungry for experiences. I get a thrill out of physical activities. That moment when the sweat starts pouring fills me with energy. I embrace my physical reality as much as my inner reality. I want to taste and see this world as much as I would love to taste and see a world yonder.
Now, all of these activities and dispositions have two things in common: (1) They either generate no money worth speaking of or even cost money. (2) They take a lot of time and do not involve my family.
As a husband of a stay-at-home mom and father of homeschooled children, however, I mostly need to do two things: (1) Make money to provide for them. (2) Spend time with them.
It is not surprising, then, that I sometimes feel a conflict between the freedom I desire in following my natural drive and the desire to make sure that my wife and children have a good life. What do you do about two such conflicting desires?
Some people say that you ought to arrange your life in such a way that as few conflicting desires as possible arise, meaning that someone like me, who enjoys having a large portion of solitude and a life of contemplation, maybe should not get married or have children in the first place. But while there is undoubtedly wisdom in thinking ahead and avoiding unnecessary inner conflicts, we all—for whatever reason—get into situations where we notice conflicting desires without being able to easily change the situation. In that case, it does not help to say, “You should have thought of that earlier.”
Besides, only focusing on how one may avoid conflicting desires ignores the ethical dimension of the problem. Not all my desires are good desires, and even those that are not bad in themselves (a number of thinkers have considered the love of solitude a virtue) may turn bad if taken to an extreme. Even though I may not always like getting my solitude disturbed by the presence of others, it might actually do me good. Unless, of course, I am a hedonist and do not care about moral goodness or developing my character. But as long as I affirm that there is such a thing as moral goodness and positive or negative character development, I need to be willing to hedge in some of my desires.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) said that everything I do should be either (1) something I enjoy, (2) something that is morally good or (3) something that is useful. In three words, I should construct my life around fun, duty, and practicality. If something is neither of these three, why do it? Why should I do something simply because it is in fashion, or is generally expected in my culture, or to impress others—or, for that matter, because it is some random goal I have set myself and feel compelled to fulfill, even though it is neither good nor useful nor enjoyable?
Hence, my drive toward experience and knowledge can actually be an enemy of Aristotle’s wisdom. Do I really have to read every book that pricks my curiosity? Do I really have to travel to every place that strikes my interest? No. The desire for novelty can be the undoing of joy, goodness, and usefulness. I had better accept that I cannot know everything I want, see everything I want, experience everything I want. Otherwise my desires will rob me of the joy of what I do know and see and experience. They will lead me to forsake my duties and throw usefulness to the wind.