Everything is relative

by Randy Gingeleski

4 minutes to read

Maybe happiness, sadness, and boredom are all just really relative. You can choose or focus on whatever you like.

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I am currently re-reading All Quiet on the Western Front, considered by some to be the best war novel of all time. The author did serve in World War I.

This is a “re-read” because we were forced to read this in 9th grade English but did not appreciate it as 14-year-olds.

Early in the book, like half the protagonist’s company dies — 80 of 150 men as I recall. Then the survivors get a break from being on the front.

Since these casualties were unanticipated, there are 150 soldiers’ rations awaiting the 80 survivors. They sit on some boxes in a flower field, feasting, smoking, and playing cards. The protagonist — if not everyone — is super happy.

Early 20th century soldiers eating.
Photo credit - Bundesarchiv

Where is this going? Almost half of your co-workers just got mowed down around you. There are guts and screaming and general carnage all over the place.

As a “first-worlder” leading a comfortable life, it’s hard for me to imagine that. Hard to relate to. But we can agree that sucks.

It seems like this trauma could depress you for a while. However, apparently all the survivors chose to focus on being grateful they’re alive and that they lucked into this bountiful feast.

There are several things we might extrapolate from this. Even without actual wartime experience.

  1. Your mood, your thoughts, and you are what you choose to focus on.
  2. It can be easier to know happiness after something bad just happened.
  3. What we interpret as “good” requires a frame of reference via “bad” stuff.

In this post, really the third item is what we’ll discuss together.

Common Starling (bird).
Photo credit - Hans Veth / Unsplash

The world is mostly quarantined indoors at the time of this writing. A lot of people are complaining about being “bored” and their inability to “go out” like normal.

Hmmm… if boredom is your biggest problem right now, it seems to me that you should be thankful.

I imagine that this crowd would long for their boredom back if they were suddenly incapacitated by COVID-19, struggling to breathe. The prospect of permanent lung damage might make one long for the way their lungs worked before.

Let’s also inspect the complaints about not “going out” to malls, bars, etcetera. How much did people appreciate these things before quarantine? When this passes, I think we’ll appreciate them as we never have before.

Empty bar and lounge.
Photo credit - Jacek Dylag / Unsplash

Indeed, the simple ability to gather with friends at a bar is something that’s easy to take for granted. I know I’ve done so and I rarely drink. It’s going to be great once this is behind us.

Another thing, I miss my barber Hussein and will really appreciate Markdaniel Barbershop when it’s back.

This is a gratitude you don’t get until your mom cuts your hair.

Portrait of the author, post-haircut-from-Mom.

But hey, my hair still looks okay on Teams video chat and some people don’t have their moms around at all. 💔

Back to the title of this post — everything is relative. We could go on for days with examples of this.

i.e. You don’t think much about your health until you get sick or injured.

i.e. Can you truly experience or describe “dark” without also having “light”?

That point is straight out of Alan Watts’ The Book. One of its major themes is the relativity we’ve arrived at here. Also, that everything’s connected.

I do recommend reading Watts but he is not light reading and you’ve just interpreted much of The Book via this blog post.

Portrait of Alan Watts, philosopher-writer.
Alan Watts

To sum this essay all up —

  • Things could likely be a lot worse for you than they are right now.
  • If you find it tough to be “mindful” on your own, subject yourself to some hardship like a grueling workout or a 24-hour fast.
  • We’re going to get through these current events then be thankful for stuff we never were before.
  • Consider reading All Quiet on the Western Front or The Book instead of scrolling through Mark Zuckerberg’s brainwash apps today.

Happy Easter 2020 🐰 and thanks for reading.

All Quiet on the Western Front 1930 film screenshot.
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930 film)

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