Recently during our regular grilling and drinking sessions with friends, the topic of conversation has been turning towards politics and even some religion. I’m a firm believer in the Chestertonian “I never discuss anything else except politics and religion. There is nothing else to discuss,” maxim, so I’m usually right in the middle of it.
Sadly the consensus amongst my friends and family is that everything is going south. That we as a culture are in decline, that our institutions are failing, and that the future looks dark. Violent political division, racial animosity, moral decline, mass shootings, and an overall pallor of degeneracy and unhappiness.
Last weekend, after a particularly long and dark discussion best described some other time, my wife rather demoralized asked the question that matters. What do we do about things, how do we live through times that are dark and demoralizing, what actions should we take?
Her question has been bothering me all week. I don’t have an answer. At least nothing that is concrete. I think that looking around, assessing the state of our lives, and the state of our society is the first step. So many of us live empty fast-food lives stuck in a never-ending cycle of work, consume, repeat; addicted to mind-numbing entertainment and shallow pleasures. So even seeing a problem with how we live and react is a first step in the right direction. And honestly, it’s easy sinking into despair and complacency. Becoming overwhelmed with Acedia, the defining characteristic of our modern world. Inactivity, inaction, lack of attention, dissatisfaction and slavery to anxiety. After all, we live in a sick world where we are connected digitally with thousands but can’t name the person who lives next door.
While I don’t have the answer, I do have some ideas on how we can try to combat the ills of today. I think that there needs to be a refocusing on the personal, a return to small scale intimacy and sub-creation. Not everything must be connected, displayed, and shared with the whole world. Do things for yourself and the ones you love. Create artistically, build, collect, adventure, but do it for yourself, not for Instagram.
I believe a small step towards alleviating the spiritual malaise is to revitalize the idea of crafty small scale creative hobbies. Everyone should have at least two personal hobbies. One that is physical such as weightlifting, running, surfing, hiking, or a sport, and more critically a creative hobby. I think way too many of us lack creative and intellectual outlets. Drawing, painting, cooking, baking, woodworking, gardening, photography, or any other creative outlet is critical.
As a writer I know that nothing beats the revitalizing mental high I get when I finish a story or even a section of one. But I’ve challenged myself to other hobbies such as my recent experiments with cooking and grilling, and my slow return to art. Eventually, I plan on getting into gardening, but I’m a little intimidated by the starting process.
As I said, I don’t have any concrete answers. But I do think that any change starts at home with the self, the small, and the personal. Disconnect from the mind-rot of television and get to work on a creative hobby. Learn it, master it, and share it with your friends.
It won’t change the world but it might make a small part of it a little bit better.