There’s some things that don’t change over the years. Here’s a story that could have happened when I was a college student, and did from time to time:
A college student spends a full day and evening working on many things to improve themselves and their prospects: classes, assignments, professional clubs, studying. Believing in efficient use of time and resources, almost every waking, sober moment is productive in one way or another. Then, as the late night draws on, the pangs of hunger emerge to monopolize their attention. There’s nothing in the room to eat, there isn’t a lot of money to spend, so the student heads out for take out pizza. It’s not particularly good pizza, but it’s quick and cheap and will keep body and soul together for a while longer. After a couple of slices, the student comes back home, because the pizza shop is a little bit seedy and no one they want to talk to is hanging out there. It’s back to work or off to sleep, the hunger cured for the moment.
But after a few months or years of this, the student discovers there’s something wrong. They’ve gotten fatter than they want, even though they thought they could eat anything and get away with it, and it’s tough to get rid of the weight, as well as the habits that put on the weight. It affects their life in ways they never dreamed.
This isn’t a witness about what happened to me in college, but a commentary on current morality. The story that caught my attention was from the New York Times: Sex On Campus: She Can Play That Game Too. The metaphor I just used could describe the first subject’s story in the article: a driving young woman who thinks the cost of having a relationship was more than she wants to pay, and so settled for series of intimate encounters with a guy who she really couldn’t have a cup of coffee or an ordinary conversation with. It goes on to tell some more stories of ambitious women struggling with balancing their lives between their careers and personal needs.
Of course I have issues with the morality of all this. The article makes the case that it’s not only men on campus that’s seeking cheap hookups and this is a new phenomenon, but I imagine this has gone on with both sexes as long as the human race has existed. In more puritanical times, social pressure frustrates it somewhat, but I think it probably drove the stories further underground than they are today. After all, in the days of huge orphanages, there must have been a lot of unspoken activity that created the need. What bothers me most, an issue that transcends sex, is the mercenary attitude people have about themselves, how they view basic needs as commodities to be dealt with, how they manage their time and relationships according to cost analysis.
To flip back to the metaphor, although we all need to eat, the best thing for our nutrition and well being is to dine. Dining is not only a pause in the day’s work, but a relationship that feeds a need for intangibles, particularly company with others. Even though there are lovely places to eat out, it’s best if we can eat at home, with food prepared with affection and care for our well being by someone who’s well being we’re invested in. It’s not just the best way to track what we should and shouldn’t be eating, it’s the best way to pleasure our taste: cooking with someone who knows what we like and can explore at will in safety. Dining at home means taking the time to find and prepare good ingredients, and creating an atmosphere that not only quells hunger, but restores well being. Good nutrition is about having a deep relationship with a cook, and taking care of them.
Seeing ourselves as a collection of hungers to be fed is making an object of ourselves. It separates us from ourselves, seeing our bodies as beasts to be fed and ridden, an animals whose performance is important, but whose being isn’t. It encourages us to see ourselves as Human Doings, only valuable for what we can accomplish, rather than Human Beings, who have value in who and what we are, and value in the relationships we have. One could say that Human Doing is another word for a kind of prostitute, selling their abilities for a price to survive. The problem with Human Doings is their value is only in what they can do: if they lose their ability or their job, they’re worthless, even to themselves.
Last Friday, I linked an article about how the Trappists do business: those monasteries frequently have many businesses going on, lots of things they accomplish, but they do it working about 4 hours per day. Where they get is right is their focus on balance in their lives between work, prayer, rest, recreation and community: the less they worry about making money, the more they make. They spend the time to do the training for specific skills, and cultivate those skills individually as much as they can. However their main focus is on God, and living as Human Beings.
We have important needs in our lives that have nothing directly to do with our usefulness, or developing marketable skills. If we ignore them, we lose part of ourselves and risk working ourselves out of our humanity. Feeding our hungers isn’t about grabbing the handiest edible thing and moving on. It is life in balance that makes all we can be, the best we can be for ourselves, those we love, and the rest of the world.
After all, if we keep depending on late night pizza, some night we’ll go out and find the place closed. Or we’ll won’t be able to get out of our chair.