"What Do You Value?"
by John Wilder
“I have been in the service of the Vorlons for centuries, looking for you. Diogenes, with his lamp, looking for an honest man, willing to die for all the wrong reasons. At last, my job is finished. Yours is just beginning. When the darkness comes, know this; you are the right people, in the right place, at the right time.” – "Babylon 5"
"What is the most common question asked by philosophers nowadays? “Do you want fries with that?” Diogenes is dead. When he was up and kicking around, he lived in a wine barrel at the end of town, and often was caught on the streets stark naked. Sometimes he was, um, enjoying himself. Oddly, he was also thought of as a respected philosopher. When I try to emulate him, though, all I get is a restraining order and some embarrassing YouTube® videos.
The reason we remember Diogenes is for two reasons: First, he invented the chicken nugget, but sadly was unable to invent any tasty dipping sauces. Second, he walked around making pithy little statements like this: “We sell things of great value for things of very little, and vice versa." It’s a very short, and very wickedly to the point piece of advice. Frankly, it points out many of the problems we are facing as a society today.
Let’s take consooming for today’s topic.Billions of dollars are spent attempting to convince people to purchase one product or another. These advertisements are hard to avoid – and they have one thing in common – a desire to get the consoomer to spend money. In some cases, the ads provide the ability to match a need with a product. If I’m cutting down trees using axes and handsaws, knowing that a thing called a chainsaw exists is providing me a real value. So, ads inform.
But ads also are used to create desire in customers, playing on emotions to drive purchase decisions for things that aren’t needs, but frivolities. I have plenty of those! I’m a sucker for some things in particular. In the sitting room (where I’m typing this now) I look around and see a map I bought as artwork a few years ago. It shows all the undersea telegraph cables in around 1871. So very cool! I walked into the store, saw it, and bought it. I consoomed. I can’t cut down a tree with it. I can’t drive it to work. It’s just... there, stuck to my wall.
Is the map of great value? No. It’s a print. It doesn’t make me better, more complete, important, or accomplished. We can look in terms of multiple ways to value things. Dollars are only one. In this case, the picture cost about what I made in about an hour or two. Was it worth an hour of my life to own that map? Yeah, I guess so. But when I start to value objects that I own, and look at how much of my life I traded for them, my equation starts to change.
If I didn’t spend that hour at work, what could I have spent that hour on? How could I have changed my life? Could I have spent more time brushing my teeth, so they were 2.3% brighter? Should I have spent that time waxing my dog? What did I overlook or not spend time on? And which of those things might have been more valuable?
I understand that money is important – those who say that money isn’t important haven’t gone without it. But money isn’t the goal, it’s what can be done with it that’s important. The true currency of our lives isn’t gold, silver, or even PEZ™. It’s time. Each of us on this planet have a finite number of hours left on this rock, and that number goes down by one each hour that we spend. It goes down by one if I spend it at a job I don’t like. It goes down if I spend it writing the best post I’ve ever written. It goes down by one if I’m sleeping. It goes down by one every hour.
Yes, I know, exercising and other positive things might extend that life, but I’m still going to die. In the endless summer of a life when I was, say, 12, I didn’t think much about time and how I spent it. Even then, though, I didn’t try to just “pass the time” since there was so much to do and see and learn in the world. Now as I’m on the back side of life, I can see that those hours I have left cannot be wasted.
They’re all I have. And learning is great, but now it has to have purpose. Will it help me write? Will it help me crack a puzzle that I can share? Will it help me with some project I’m working on? Can it help me change the world?
Again, as I get older, it ceases to be about me. It’s now about what I can do to help others, how I can help make the world a better place. Thankfully, during my career I’ve been able to do work on things that matter, and have made the world a slightly better place. If I’m trading my life for my work, I’m glad that it’s work that matters.
Diogenes? He’s still dead, but he changed the world, just a little bit. And I can, too. And so can you. Time is still all we have, but it’s up to us to make the most of it, each and every day, just like Diogenes showed us. But, I don’t recommend you do it naked. Now, I wonder how Diogenes dealt with the restraining orders?"