A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle
No longer allowed to read on my IPad en route, I sat quietly one night watching the lights of the cities go by, musing. Which happens to be one of my favorite pastimes… Ironically, I thought of Pascal’s Pensee: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
I know people who can’t sit quietly. They have to have distractions. The TV has to be on. Or Facebook open on their phones.
So why did Pascal attribute all of humanity’s problems to this characteristic?
Maybe a better first question would be why must these folks have distractions? What is it about sitting quietly that they find so uncomfortable?
Or, put another way, why don’t they like their own company?
I can hear you now… “Mark, what does that even mean? What is “my own company? If I’m by myself, I’m by myself. By definition I can’t be “my own company.”
Actually, you can. And frequently you are. What you’re saying is that you haven’t yet become aware of the reality that you are always talking with yourself. We tell ourselves stories all the time. Unless, of course, our minds are on things outside of ourselves; that is, we’re looking at our phones.
Don’t believe me? Think about the last time you had a headache. Why did you go grab some Tylenol? See? You became aware of a reality in your world, talked yourself through how to respond to it, and took action. Or why did you stop in the gas station the last time you filled up? Same idea. You became aware of a situation, had a conversation with yourself around whether this was a good time to stop at the gas station, or whether to wait until next time you were out of the house because at that point you’d be less rushed. And you took action based on that conversation.
That’s what I’m talking about. When we’re not distracted by social media or the television or conversations with other folks, our minds wander to realities in our lives that we want or need to think about. It’s our nature. And every thought around the issue you’re considering is one side of the conversation. The next thought in response is the other side.
It’s also what Pascal was talking about. We don’t resolve issues in our lives without addressing them. We address them alone or in conversation with others. If we address them at all.
Are there issues active in your life you’d prefer to keep to yourself? I imagine so. I know a few people who are maybe too eager to “air their dirty laundry.” I know more people who are sensitive to realities that are likely no one else’s business. And out of sensitivity to those around them, or out of self-respect, these issues are not shared. But they are real and need to be addressed. So our other option is to consider them in the quiet of our alone-ness.
Pascal is recognizing that in his experience, the issues we are most likely to need to address alone are hard issues. And in much the same way as we don’t want to address them with the help of those around us, we avoid thinking about them on our own. So they fester unresolved.
It’s also our nature that these issues don’t stay quiet. It may be why we have sleepless nights sometimes. And who enjoys wrestling with issues when we need to be asleep? And maybe it’s not a bad thing to get up after tossing and turning for a couple of hours and open a book or turn on the TV. Those are ways to relieve ourselves from the need to think about hard issues at a particularly inappropriate time.
But that illustrates Pascal’s point. Sleep time is not a good time to have a heavy conversation with ourselves. So if we are to resolve issues we need to set aside a quiet time to have that hard conversation alone. Or the hard issue will haunt us. And there will be more sleepless nights spent in the company of fictional characters in books or on TV.
This can go on. And on. Until we find the strength to sit quietly in a room alone. Or the issue resolves itself without our input, which might not be the best resolution. Which I think is what Pascal is trying to say.
Finding the courage to confront our issues is a learned skill. It comes from determining to give the issues their due, either with the help of others or in conversations with ourselves “quietly in a room alone.” Once we become determined, then what? If we’ve never picked up a baseball, it’s hard to throw a strike.
Maybe the first step is to realize that this is something we all need to learn if we are to solve, or even prevent predictable issues, and then by extension take care of “all of humanity’s problems.” And then to realize that we actually do have conversations with ourselves all the time, and maybe to become intentional about the topics of those conversations. And then to find the courage to confront the issues that demand to be confronted. During the day, when we can be at our best, so we don’t have to distract ourselves in the middle of the night.
One potential challenge… We don’t like to admit how we got into this pickle to begin with. So acknowledging it makes us admit a fallibility. If it’s a “shameful” issue we attach to our “selves,” we may not like who we are very much. So we don’t want to think about the issue and go down the rabbit hole of diminishing our self-esteem. So we avoid. And lose the ability to metaphorically enjoy the beauty of watching the lights of small towns in the Midwest float by as we cruise at 35,000 feet in the middle of the night.
Better to sit quietly alone and decide to like ourselves despite our humanity and deal courageously with issues. So we can then enjoy everything else around us without feeling the need to reach for our phones.
Thanks for reading!