Thursday, July 25, 2019

Too Much

Every now and then a Facebook friend will announce they are taking a break. They feel they're spending too much time on social media. Their stated end is usually some version of creating more balance in their lives. Other friends talk of work-life balance or even of working towards some sort of spiritual balance, the kind espoused by Eastern philosophies. We tend to see balance as an obvious good, something toward which to strive in all areas of our lives, except perhaps for love: most of us, I think, would take as much love as is offered . . . But, of course, as the Beatles sang, "The love you take is equal to the love you make," which suggests that there is a perfect balance there as well. We tend to see it everywhere as a kind of perfection toward which we, in our own best interest, should strive.

I've worked toward balance myself, in all aspects of life, but not as often now as I once did prior to spending so much time with young humans who, generally speaking, care nothing about balance, unless it's the physical kind one strives for, arms out, while walking along the top of a wall. Indeed, most kids I know are happiest when they are out of balance, when they are fully engaged in the activity of their own choosing, be it jumping on the bed, digging a hole, or eating ice cream: they don't want it to end and pitch a fit when we tell them it has to. Too much balance is boring. Routine can be deadly. When left to their own devices, children tend to keep playing until the tedium sets in, and only then do they, of their own accord, move on to something else.

Children don't worry about getting "too much," unless it's of a bad thing. They don't see the point of balancing the "good" with the "bad." That's an adult concern: we turn off the TV or take away their video games in the interest of balance. We tell them they've had too much candy, or too much party, or too much time awake and that now they need to balance that with sleep. We're not wrong, of course, we can tell they've had too much by how they are behaving or because we know about the longterm consequences of too much sugar, but who among us doesn't sometimes wish we could just go all in? In fact, who among us hasn't given into a whole bag of corn chips or a full day of binge watching or several drinks too many? These are things we tend to do when the kids aren't watching, of course, because we want to role model the virtue of balance, but we all need to sometimes give in to excess. We then tend to suffer the consequences of having been so out of balance, which is why we then strive during the days and weeks afterwords to re-balance ourselves by living more virtuously.

We've learned the hard way about excess and we try to protect our children from those dangers by forcing them into balance, yet again, who among us does not keep repeating the "mistake" of excess in our own lives? Did we learn the lesson ourselves? Or is it possible that balance isn't necessarily the pure good we think it is? Perhaps excess is necessary.

Maybe William Blake is right: "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." Maybe Mae West was right: "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful." Maybe Anais Nin was right: "Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terror, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them."

And there's that word again, "balance." Maybe balance isn't a middle way at all, but rather a seat on a teeter totter with "excess" sitting on the other end. It seems to me that what I've learned from children is that we're wrong when we envision balance as a kind of a scale and our goal is for it to hang level. It's more accurately viewed, I think, as a kind of ride that goes up and down: a place of highs and lows with bumps at both the bottom and top. That's at least how I've experienced life at it's best.

In the end, balance, like any form of perfectionism, is an impossibility anyway, and as the kids already know, even if you can create it on a day-to-day basis, it is a deadly dull place to be. So we always rock the boat a little, knocking things once more out of balance, because without excess we can never aspire to wisdom.

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