March 5, 2017 – Cutting Back on the Costly


“So, concerning the things we pursue, and for which we vigorously exert ourselves, we owe this consideration  either there is nothing useful in them, or most aren’t useful. Some of them are superfluous, while others aren’t worth that much. But we don’t discern this and see them as free, when they cost us dearly.” – Seneca, Moral Letters, 42.6

It seems that Thoreau’s quote

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

fits perfectly. How often can I write/say that and it be true? In meditating on this quote I focused on three elements: pursuit, exertion, and cost.

Pursuit

We are inundated every day by people telling us we need things. Television. Billboards. Radio. Internet. Pursuing something, in and of itself, is not bad. Rather, it’s when the pursuit it for things that “aren’t worth much” that we find ourselves distanced from the things that do. How do we get back?

Exertion

Energy is a valuable, but limited resource. For humans, energy can be understood to consist of three important pieces: food, water, and sleep. But this for the body. The mind too consumes energy. Thinking is not free, and being able to think clearly assumes we’ve done well on the food, water, sleep front. When our pursuits take us away from the good we must exert even more effort to get back to the trailhead.

Cost

We pay for every mistake we make. Either with actual money or with time. It is critical that we are aware of what we are paying for.

Years ago my son shared with me that, in retrospect, he felt we wasted so much money on toys that received limited use. I can’t speak to whether the frequency of use is a good measurement for the value of something like a toy. Maybe it inspired him to like something else, and without it his life would have been different. A bit dramatic but I hope you see my point. That we were able to afford things is the benefit of my wife and I have good jobs. Her job, when my son was younger, required her to work weekends. This meant she missed a good number of his Saturday football games. We were both aware of the consequences of this choice and accepted it.

No decision, financial or time specific, will yield a perfect consequence. But when we measure the cost against return of investment, when we are truly aware of what we’re willing to pay, we can ensure we are cutting out the costly elsewhere. Those things that cost us but from which we yield little to nothing of value.

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