Thanks to Riana over at These Days in French Life, I came across this fascinating op-ed piece from The New York Times... I have to say, this really got me thinking... And I know we live in an entirely different day and age, of course, and that we are meant to supposedly "move forward" in our approach to modern life, but who's to say that sometimes that act of moving forward might not -- or cannot -- involve a few elements of stepping back in time as well? Or learning from our ancestors and their slower approach to life in order to better preserve the world we live in? And perhaps we could learn to better appreciate our families, all those we love, by detaching ourselves just a bit more from all the material things that tie us to today's society?
I haven't put Riana's lessons to good use yet in my own daily activities, not nearly as much as I'd like, and I fully admit to succumbing to big-city temptations far more often than I should these days... (Yeah, I like some of the finer things too, I won't deny that!) But all that she has accomplished in her Slow Year has really inspired me in my own approach to life, and I will be putting these aspirations into action more and more with time. On that note, I really have conflicting feelings about Sarkozy's approach to certain elements of French society, and how things should change... I've always been a bit "on-the-fence" about my political leanings, and I've never spoken out about them here on my blog, perhaps out of fear of confrontation or disagreement (I've always hated arguments, although I know that French society is basically built on the beauty of debate!). And there are in fact some elements of Sarkozy's proposals that, in theory, make sense and seem to -- perhaps (do you sense my hesitatation here?) -- point us in the right direction. But why is it drummed into us from an early age, in today's society, to work, work, work -- hard and long -- to make more money so that we can, in fact, "be happy"? I know that in today's world we obviously all need to make money, to make a living, to get by, to survive -- but why does this have to be at the cost of our own personal happiness and fulfillment? Why does money have to be ultimately equated with our happiness? More and more I'm questioning this concept, realizing that my own happiness comes from the simplest of things. I'm already tired of the rat race at 33, and I don't even have a particularly stressful job! I'm tired of running after the "almighty dollar" -- or Euro in my case -- I want my happiness and fulfillment to come from those simple things. I know, I know -- you're all going to sigh and say, "You poor thing, but unfortunately, my dear, that's just not the way the world works!" And I guess you'd probably be right...
Or would you? I still have a problem with it. I just don't think I'm wired that way.
And don't get me wrong: I know there's nothing wrong with working hard, being ambitious, accomplishing incredible things. I just don't think I was necessarily cut out to be one of those people. I admire those who do set goals, who make so much happen, who get ahead and make great names for themselves. And I'm certainly not criticizing them. I think it would be great if there could be a better balance of both these kinds of people in the world... And I certainly don't expect anything to be handed to me on a plate, without any effort -- I of course realize that working hard brings great reward as well. But what's so wrong with spending more time with our families instead of working all the time, having in fact different values? Isn't that what a work-life balance is all about? Can we ever escape from this race?
My boyfriend has long said that he agrees with a lot of Sarkozy's principles, but I just don't know if this "work more to earn more" concept really applies to us -- that's the irony of this whole thing! I see how hard he has worked for years in a thankless job that has exhausted him and made him wonder about his own future. But at the same time, his philosophical side has allowed him to find happiness in the smallest, simplest of things, most notably the time he spends with his family and on vacation, away from the craziness of urban city life. It's a contradiction in action: obviously we have to work in that big city to be able to benefit from the comforts of the vacation away, but isn't there a better way of reconciling the two? And I just don't know if I necessarily want to "work more to earn more" myself as I get older... I believe I want more time to treasure the precious, valuable things in life, things that sometimes slip through our fingers faster than we all realize. When my boyfriend's mother passed away less than two years ago, that fact came into focus much sooner than any of us expected -- his father had worked very hard for many years to provide for his family, and after retiring, he planned on spending more time with the ones he loves, doing other things that he loves as well. But then he lost, far too soon, the one person who meant the most to him in the world... These are the curve balls that life throws at us sometimes, but it still makes me question our way of life.
I know that we all must struggle with these questions, and that in a way you may find these reflections of mine fairly clichéd and idealistic -- unrealistic to say the least. And I don't even know if there's a real "point" to my ramblings here today... Except to say that the "stop to smell the roses" approach is one of the main reasons why I fell in love with France! It was what made me feel comfortable here so many years ago, what made me feel at home. I have never really been able to put my finger on it exactly, never been able to describe to my family what kept me here. But I really think that this sense of wonder, this appreciation of the beauty of things around us without feeling compelled to have more at all times, finding happiness with less -- this is one of the primary things that keeps me here.
And to be honest, I'm sometimes a bit frightened that all of that is going to change, and faster than we realize -- far too fast for our own good. I feel lucky to have been able to experience some wonderful things in this country over the last 5-10 years, and very blessed in many ways. And of course I know that France is in need of reform, of improvements on many levels -- but what country isn't? My greatest fear is that this country may become a place that I no longer recognize, a place that it was never meant to be. Do we really want France to turn into another form of America? Please don't misunderstand me: I'm proud of my roots and my heritage, as well as the freedom and democracy that my native country represents, but I call France my home today for a reason. Wouldn't transforming France entirely ruin everything that we have come to know and love about it?
Sorry for this rambling tangent... It was just inspired by the article, and for once I really had to get my thoughts out there.