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Life's most persistent and urgent question

Right back at ya.

Right back at ya.

Early this week I clicked on a link tweeted by a woman I follow on the world's favourite micro-blogging site and came across a quote by American novelist A.M. Homes. It pretty well summed up my last few weeks of first world, too-much-time-on-my-hands rumination.

"Having a child and a family, I not only feel obligated to be hopeful, but I want to be hopeful," Homes told Richard Grant of London's The Telegraph, in a somewhat fawning profile piece.

"I want to push back against the pessimism. I can't bear to accept that everything is basically going to shit. And everything is: the economy, the family, the social structures, the class divide, the political process in this country, global warming, random violence from terrorism.

"Unless you want to live in denial, I feel that you have to train yourself to find hope. The logical response is to get incredibly depressed, but what's the point of that? Especially if you've got children," said Homes.

I hear ya, sister.

Many years ago, I dated a woman who told me her major fear about having children was it would remove the option of suicide because she could never be so selfish as to abandon her offspring in that manner.

The unspoken sentiment was there was plenty of stuff about the world that distressed her to the point she contemplated pressing eject.

I think of her when I start to get weighed down by things, when I make the subtle choices that often lead me to depression and gloom.

Even though we live in, perhaps, the most privileged country in the world, I often despair because of all the problems Homes lists and wonder if we'll ever get it right as a species?

I won't try to defend what's an enormously self-indulgent practice on my part, except to say there are days when I look at humanity and am chilled by our cruelty, ignorance and arrogance, as well as my own weaknesses.

In days gone by, that's when I'd start in on a tidy little self-destructive cycle of thought summarised as "What's The Point?" What's the point of trying, of kicking against the pricks ... of hope?

Nowadays, the point is my daughter: she didn't ask to be brought into this world - it was my choice, so it's up to me to imbue her with hope and positivity about what's to come.

So, like Homes, "I want to push back against the pessimism."

The question of "what's the point?" informs much of Homes's work - particularly her last novel This Book Will Save Your Life (2006).

In The Telegraph interview, Grant writes that Homes was concerned, in the book, with the question: "How can we live happy, sane, meaningful, fulfilling lives at a time when society is half-deranged and the future looks desperately uncertain?" 

Grants says: "The best option, [Homes] suggests, is old-fashioned and straightforward: help other people as much as possible, and don't lose hope."

Not a new thought by any means, but one worth reminding ourselves of, especially if you're a parent and molding a little person's world view.

As often happens when I read something that resonates, I'll run across another idea that reinforces the thought, and that came to me a few days later, talking to an aquaintance on the phone.

He told me how he was working in finance some years ago and was in bookstore in Boston, where he flicked open a collection of essays, to find a quote by Martin Luther King.

It said: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"

Suffice it to say, he's not in finance any more.


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You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

73 comments so far

  • People can be mean, selfish, cruel and uncaring. I don't like them too much as a general rule. I have had partners and friends who have treated me poorly and I made a conscious decision in recent years to not tolerate it.
    The world can be a truly beautiful place amidst the horrible stuff that happens. And it is a great gift to be female and in this country and have the opportunities that I have. I am also grateful for dear and wonderful friends for whom I would do anything I can to help them when they need it even if they don't ask.
    It is by no means perfect non-violent and as accepting of difference as I would like to see. It is certainly time for some changes in attitudes in some sectors of our community.
    When I get home from work I have the pleasure of my own leisure and cuddles from my dogs, the Fluffies, and company of friends if and when I choose. I have the opportunity to work in one of the most interesting places and even though I get terribly frustrated I also know I am making a difference.
    I won't be a matyr for a cause. I will be someone who does what I can to make the world a better place.
    Big hugs and much love to all who have made a difference in my life. Some of you know who you are. Many of you don't and I thank you anyway.

    Date and time
    October 18, 2012, 7:11PM
    • Great article! Two quotes that I always come back to: 'The whole world is so mad that anyone who's adjusted to it is in serious tróuble' R.D. Laing, and 'The only path to happiness is to love other people - it's as easy and as difficult as that' Leunig.

      Date and time
      October 22, 2012, 7:33AM
  • Just when I am so fed up with your ramblings, I vow never to waste my time again, you hit me with a sucker punch like this. Great article.

    Date and time
    October 18, 2012, 8:18PM
    • I liked this article, well done.

      I live by this quote, it is often attributed to Gandhi, but he actually got it from Augustine of Hippo (354 to 430) The Quote and my life's daily pursuit is...."Be the Change You Wish to See in the World"

      I can influence my tiny little patch, not by my words, but my action. If I think the world lacks compassion, it is up to me to be more compassionate. If I find there is a lack of love in the world, I am to be more loving. If I perceive a lack of generosity I will be more generous. I...... am to be that change :)

      If I wish to find myself, then the best way is to lose myself in the service of others :)

      Date and time
      October 19, 2012, 7:41AM
  • I try to live by this maxim (with enough time for myself to avoid becoming a martyr). What a pity it seems mutually exclusive to ambition for power...

    Date and time
    October 19, 2012, 12:21AM
    • The truth it is

      Thank you for the reminder Sam

      Date and time
      October 19, 2012, 2:35AM
      • Yes children can be a great source of great joy, hope and comfort, but also of despair and depression when you are deprived of their company by a malicious ex-spouse.

        I think the Dalia Lama also said that life's greatest gift was to make others feel happy, obviously something of an antidote for self-centredness.

        bee thousand
        Date and time
        October 19, 2012, 4:19AM
        • Why do you perpetrate the pernicious lie that depression is something people somehow choose. Depression causes guilt and terror in the individual who would give anything to get back into a daily routine that most take for granted. I would love to be able to help others unfortunately I can no longer help myself. If you are in a position to make "suble choices" that you know will affect your life consider yourself fortunate. The" irrational" choices that a clinically depressed person makes are not true choices but can be symptoms of the disease she is suffering. The premise of your article is that people can choose to be positive, choose to help others in short choose to make their lives happy and meaningful. Unfortunately in the case of the clinically depressed your premise is wrong.

          Date and time
          October 19, 2012, 6:21AM
          • Much as I feel for you egg, if you suffer from depression, that is not what the article is about. Sam mentions a self-destructive cycle of thought he describes as somewhat self-indulgent which is depressing, a normal human emotion that should not to be confused with clinical depression.

            If we don't abandon all hope for the betterment of ourselves and others it leaves us free to take positive steps, and I can personally vouch for the fact that attempting (although often failing) to cling to a shred of hope can be valuable in dealing with depression, but of course it is by now means a cure

            Date and time
            October 19, 2012, 8:38AM
          • @ egg

            Oh I wanna give you a hug right now. I have clinical depression too and I think both you and Sam are right, just looking at it from different ends of the story. My depression is a disease, I can't change it or choose not to have it or wish it away, but everyday I make the choice to get up out of bed, to not listen to the dark thoughts, to take my meds, to hope that tomorrow will be better if I can just get thru today. And, granted, sometimes its not, but sometimes it is!

            Date and time
            October 19, 2012, 9:44AM

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