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A Search for Wisdom

Occasional Paper #1

July 1988


Even in the affluence of our current culture we do not have a consensus of understanding about the significance of personal leisure. In my view, leisure can provide something much more than passive spectator activities. It can lead to ever higher levels of personal satisfaction.

Not many years ago, the average person had to work 10 or more hours a day, 6 or more days a week in order to provide his personal food and shelter. Often that work was directly related to these needs. He spent time gardening, raising his stock, patching the roof to his house, making his clothes and so on. Leisure time was often thought of as a short pause at sunset.

A long time back, resting on the Sabbath was found to have a very significant value. Anyone can verify that value. Not long ago I was involved in a project which took 12 or more hours a day and ran on for several months. I found that after working more than about ten consecutive days at that pace, my efficiency gradually decreased. When I literally took off one day a week and did nothing - slept in, ate longer meals, sat staring off into space, took a short walk, but nothing to do with the project - my weekly efficiency improved! This is not the leisure I perceive in an affluent society.

To me, my leisure is my time not devoted to providing food and shelter, but rather that time devoted to satisfying myself in other ways. I like to make the distinction between vocation and avocation. Vocational activities are driven by the need to satisfy food and shelter requirements. Avocational activities are driven by the need to satisfy inner gut feelings of personal satisfaction. Certainly, the two may overlap, but the fundamental difference lies in the driving force.

I think of leisure time as avocational time. The pause at sunset that refreshes is not leisure in the same sense. Neither is the pause on the Sabbath. Both of these pauses are like charging one's batteries. They are necessary pauses in life, but not part of one's leisure.

With the remarkable degree of affluence we have in America today, the vocational time required to provide our basic food and shelter has decreased. The pauses that refresh don't need to take up the remainder of our waking hours. But our educational system has not conditioned us to exploit the potential of avocational time.

Our schools today scream of relevance. Anything that is not immediately relevant here and now, is dismissed almost out of hand. The most important criteria for inclusion in the curriculum is the relation of the subject to vocational activities. A work ethic is developed as the ethics of vocational activities. Now this description is a little bit exaggerated. But how important are music and the arts in our curriculum today? And how important are passive spectator sports?

And for that matter, how important is the nature and ethic of avocational work? Avocational work can be easily confused with vocational work. The same activity for one person may be vocational while for another it is avocational. The important difference is not the work itself but the driving motivation and the type of personal satisfaction.

For regular employment, the society is geared to a regular 40 hour work week. Regardless of the occupation, most employers expect full time work. Somehow, full time work is correlated with the time required to provide food and shelter. We have been encouraged to improve our life style in addition to food and shelter and throw all of that into the vocational activity. The rest of ones time is often devoted to passive activities.

Vocational activity is driven by a boss who directs our activities and who determines the compensation. We become indebted to the employer, the boss. This is a step removed from personal freedom. It is the result of a social division of labor and a step removed from personal involvement with the requirements of food and shelter. The division of labor is socially efficient as far as the production of food and shelter and increasing the life style is concerned. But it is missing a real need of the individual.

In society the individual becomes a number. He is not even dignified with a name. Each individual has a Social Security number which indexes him in a large data base. His access to that system is through a computer. Most individuals have an identification such as a drivers license which is numbered and it is that number which is recorded. The inanimate object accessed through the various data bases is far removed from the individual. >p>The value systems of religions and societies are built around the requirements of an efficient social structure. Many of these systems have demonstrated social efficiency over the centuries. But many of these systems developed when the time required to produce food and shelter took most of man's waking hours and the results of his labors were immediately satisfying. The problem today is that the efficiency of the industrial revolution has reduced the time required to provide food and shelter. The question is: What does the individual do with the rest of his waking hours?

When we talk of individual freedom, perhaps we really mean being indebted to ourself and not to others. The industrial revolution has taken man a step away from individual freedom. The individual becomes indebted to others in a very demanding and stressful manner. This stress leads to all sorts of problems as described by Hans Selye and others. Stress is a factor in producing arteriosclerosis, other vascular diseases and one of the diseases with very high mortality rates - arteriosclerotic heart disease. The stress produced when one is beholden only to himself, and his food and shelter are not in jeopardy, is quite different.

I remember our schools teaching that in our ever shrinking world we need to learn to get along with one another. The individual is encouraged not to rock the boat. The driving force is conformity! Little, if any, attention is given to individual differences. Relevance in education is relating instructional materials to conformity with the job market requirements in an industrial complex and getting along with our neighbors. Too often we learn to get along with our neighbors by avoiding them.

What would I do differently? First, I would teach that value judgments do not make things the way things are. Value judgments need to be left to the individual. The individual should decide what is of value to him. The individual can explore value judgments in terms of personal satisfaction. In the end, truth is little more than a gut feeling. Some people feel one way while others feel exactly the opposite. Neither should impose his values on the other. The truth will make you free, is an individual definition of freedom.

Lets teach a distinction between facts as observed in the world around us and judgments about those facts. It is surprising how few people rely on their observations of the world they live in. Most of us are sighted individuals. Yet most of us do not know from personal experience, the degree of visual acuity. We pass the eye test when we get our driver's license but that has little relation to the finest detail we can see. The physiology books all state that we can see one minute of arc. Yet I can't and I know of no one who can see one minute of arc. However, one minute of arc is the correct answer because the book says so. Each individual's color perception is unique. How can we communicate about colors. Now what sort of instruction is given in these areas?

We need to teach an understanding of the world around us in such a way that the student can say: I know it because I have personally examined it. The one example pertaining to our vision cited above is but a very small segment of our perception of the world around us. Another misleading area is in the physics of the world around us. In physics, mathematics is the language of choice to describe this world. But the student often seems to get things reversed. The mathematics may describe the world around us, but it does not make the world behave the way it does. Mathematics is just another language.

We need to teach that a life style is an individual choice. We do not have to keep up with the Joneses. We do not have to conform with others in this shrinking world. This is not to say that we have a license to trespass upon others, but neither do they have a right to trespass upon us. I would rather read than watch television. I can not discuss Monday night football because I have things of greater value to me than watching it. Rarely do I find satisfaction in spectator sports. In discussion with others I have other things I would like to talk about. If there is no one to discuss my ideas with, I would rather take the time to continue of one if my other activities or read some more. These are my values, not to be imposed upon others!

Leisure, then, I equate with the freedom to pursue avocational activities without threatening my access to food and shelter. I drive myself harder than I was driven while working for others. Avocational activities can be hard work. The value of personal satisfaction gained has taken new meaning for me, with avocational work. To me that is a reasonable application of leisure made available by an affluent society.

Glen B. Haydon, M.D.
Route 2, Box 429
La Honda, CA 94020
HINDSIGHT is decicated to examining the past in a search for wisdom coping present. After all, hindsight is always 20/20. Extrapolations into the future are left to the reader.