How Much of Life Will You Exchange for It?December 19, 2015
I suppose the first question to be answered is what the “it” is in the title. I can say that the it varies from person to person and is determined by our life circumstances, to some degree.
Thoreau is quoted as saying that "The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it".
No. I’m not hanging around reading Thoreau, though, perhaps I should. Haven't thought about it. Regardless, I do appreciate a provocative quote. So, in addition to answering the question as to what the meaning of “it” is here, it appears we need to ponder what life means in this case, as well.
The real currency of this life isn’t money, nor even time, but life itself. Okay, so far so good. But I get a little hazy after that.
What is life? More specifically, what is my life? And by extension, what it am I exchanging my life for?
Let me cut to the chase here on one of these questions or we’ll be here for a book, not a blog. What is this currency I’m calling my life?
My life might be summed up as the total of all my potential options, my opportunities.
Regardless of what the it is in life, I can only exchange my future for it. The it depends on a decision, a choice, about tomorrow – not yesterday. I can begin today with a decision, but the only life I’m bartering with is in the future.
Now, back to the it. Before I tackle this one, let’s pull off onto the shoulder for a moment and talk about the context for this conversation.
I turn 62 next month. I could begin drawing social security. I also have a job. I’m a university professor. I must say that my vocation is one of the best I’ve ever seen in the world of work. I chose this path some years ago after working in industry for some years. I receive decent compensation for what I do and I have considerable autonomy as to how I fulfill my employment obligations. Further, I’m in an honorable profession with great potential for making a difference in individual lives and society as a whole. But, it is a job.
After all this, most people would tell me to sit down, shut up and don’t even think about whining. They might observe that I already have worked out a pretty good exchange deal. However, that would ignore an important point of this narrative, which is that we all are paying a price for the options chosen and continue to choose. And that is without regard to the perceived relative value of one set of choices over another set. Each person is paying a price for their current it. The question is one of satisfaction with the price paid for what is received.
Let’s revisit Thoreau: “ The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
My observation is that we humans will choose certainty over opportunity, the known over possibility, safety over glory. All this reflects a yearning for security and many will exchange life for it. This might explain the near universal appeal of socialist ideology in practice (though violently opposed by many in theory) and may also explain the drift toward it in free societies.
We have a strong desire for security, and will give up a good amount of our freedom to possess it. The it for many is security, motivated by fear. Fear of losing every little thing we have. No matter how small or pathetic our thing, we cling to it. Fear of having nothing. Fear of losing our little world. We’ll exchange our lives to have IT – even if it is an illusion, even if we suspect we could do better, even if we know we’re holding back, and even when we know it will betray us in the end.
I find its power at work in me – and I resent its price. I see other options, other opportunities, other lives to be lived. I want to live some of these other lives. Some lives I am living, but hold back on others.
I feel the pull of the known, the more certain, the familiar, the tried-and-true, which keeps me handing my life over, one piece at a time, in order to have …. It. And I know that eventually, my life will be exhausted – and I fear the it I settled for, will leave me only with…. a question.
Was the price worth it?
Note: This blog simultaneously posts on 4060men.com.