Less is More

An oxy­moron worth liv­ing

RSWLiving - - Contents - Dr. Ran­dall H. Niehoff has been spend­ing time (and r eceiv­ing a re­turn on in­vest­ment) on the is­lands since 1991.

By 2028, Keynes pre­dicted well into eight decades ago, “the stan­dard of life” in Europe and the United States would be so im­proved that there would be a 15-hour work week. That rosy view, how­ever, was pierced by a white-hot beam of warn­ing: only those who un­der­stood “the art of life it­self” would “be able to en­joy the abun­dance when it comes.”

In 2014, rec­og­niz­ing that it is rare to hear some­one com­plain­ing of hav­ing too much time on their hands, Wash­ing­ton Post re­porter Brigid Schulte ex­am­ined why 21st-cen­tury Amer­i­cans feel so busy in her book, Over­whelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. Start­ing with in­ter­views of so­cial sci­en­tists from the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Time Re­search, she learned sev­eral the­o­ries for why time pres­sure is in­creas­ing: (1) too much time is spent think­ing about how much there is to do rather than just do­ing it; (2) busy­ness has taken on so­cial sta­tus; (3) hu­mans are hard­wired to ac­quire more and con­sume more even if their ba­sic needs have been met; (4) work lends mean­ing to our days, and for many is the means of most (if not all) of their sense of self-worth (re­call how com­mon it is when mak­ing a new ac­quain­tance to ask or be asked, af­ter “How do you do?”, the ques­tion, “What do you do?”).

In our cur­rent cul­ture we re­peat­edly ask our­selves, “Why am I so busy?” A healthy re­sponse is to face up to the re­cur­ring chal­lenge of ci­ti­zen­ship in any and ev­ery eco­nom­i­cally de­vel­oped so­ci­ety, which is to be­come an artist of liv­ing.

An artis­tic re­sponse to the temp­ta­tion to get busy at (1) mak­ing to-do lists, (2) mea­sur­ing so­cial sta­tus, (3) count­ing pos­ses­sions and calo­ries, or (4) equat­ing self-es­teem with ef­fort ex­pended is to af­firm the re­al­ity of less is more. Coined by the poet Robert Brown­ing and pop­u­lar­ized by the Ger­man-born ar­chi­tect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, this pre­cious piece of wis­dom is an oxy­moron (lit­er­ally, “pointed fool­ish­ness”) that is not a sim­ple con­tra­dic­tion in terms but a con­tra­dic­tion in ideas. It stretches your mind and ex­pands your think­ing.

Ev­ery oxy­moron awak­ens aware­ness be­cause it is nei­ther log­i­cal nor lit­eral, yet makes a sharp point. Coun­try singer Dolly Par­ton was raised in Ap­palachian poverty, yet be­came a rich and glam­orous Hol­ly­wood star. She wielded the weapon of an oxy­moron when she quipped at a glit­tery, tele­vised award cer­e­mony: “You’d be sur­prised to know how much it costs to look this cheap!”

Here on the Gulf Coast our warm mid­win­ter sea­son has lured many of us to Florida. Out in the gulf the serene, green sanc­tu­ary is­lands beckon vis­i­tors to en­joy na­ture—a pro­tected en­vi­ron­ment with a healthy bal­ance of peo­ple, plants and an­i­mals. Laden with lush con­ser­va­tion land and adorned with a neck­lace of white, sandy beaches, it looks good and hasn’t been cheap to main­tain. But it’s worth ev­ery penny for at least two rea­sons: (1) its in­hab­i­tants are lured out­doors where time is mea­sured not in min­utes on a clock but in mo­ments that are breath­less; and (2) the sports that fuel our en­er­getic ac­tiv­i­ties aren’t con­cerned with goals writ­ten on a day plan­ner, the bur­dens of a time sched­ule, the pile of stuff owned, or ac­com­plish­ments listed in a record book.

Writer/artist Wil­liam Blake’s own oxy­moron is a les­son about time man­age­ment re­learned by all who cross the Sani­bel Cause­way, take a deep breath, and be­gin, art­fully, to make an is­land life: “You never know what is enough un­less you know what is more than enough.”

Hu­mans are hard­wired to ac­quire more and con­sume more even if their ba­sic needs have been met. Thus for the first time since his cre­ation man will be faced with his real, his per­ma­nent prob­lem—how to use his free­dom from press­ing eco­nomic cares, how to oc­cupy the leisure, which science and com­pound in­ter­est have won. —John May­nard Keynes, from his 1931 es­say, “Eco­nomic Pos­si­bil­i­ties for Our Grand­chil­dren”

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