Contentedness and Social Justice: Mismatch?

By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Apology    Error in Previous Blog (June 14, 2011)

First, I apologize for an error in the previous blog.  It was pointed out to me that in the final paragraph, I described a vision of co-op housing between friends looking for a way to live supportively as they aged.   I spoke of the idea of a number of couples joining to do this, excluding the very singles about whom I’d been previously fretting publicly.   My mistake.   Of course it was the idea of households, which could join together and contain a variety of forms of senior families – including a family of one.

Contented: Can One Be and Still Thirst for Social Justice?

Having thought a lot about people who remain discontented with their lives, I’ve decided the truest statement regarding this plight is this: they are among those who haven’t grasped the truth that this life, this moment, is all that there is. 

Until getting to that spot, one continues to look for someone or something to blame, and hasn’t realized that he/she is the only one responsible for one’s own inner state.  Yes, horrible people and horrible circumstances create horrible burdens for others and it can take a lot of work to arrive at a place where there is some freedom from the shadows cast by bad things one hasn’t been able to control.  But there is an inner freedom to be gained and centuries of thought in every culture and community has laid out some of the many paths that others have followed with success. 

Seems that while many values are worthy of life-long dedication, such as social service, family loyalty, integrity, open-mindedness, generosity,  adherence to practicing and achieving these goals doesn’t always result in being content.  I’m convinced that a life expressive of these values is the bedrock of achieving contentment, but in themselves, they aren’t the core of contentment.

And as I meet people in their post-middle age, who are wondering about the last big stage of their lives (senior years, retirement, the culmination of their lives of hard work) I find quite a few who admit to not being happy, to not feeling content, to wondering what the heck went wrong?  “I tried hard, I did most things the right way, I achieved a fair amount, but something is missing.  I’m not happy”.

Discontent.  Expectations not met.

How come?  I don’t know!!  Perhaps some are depressed, stressed by events that happened  long ago that weren’t dealt with then.  Some maybe have a longing for something was supposed to be fulfilled but was cut short and not realized.  A lost love, a career dream, an adventure backed away from, an opportunity passed up. Whatever, the discontent has set in.  Trouble is, it doesn’t remain private.  Everybody around you who is sensitive to your presence picks up on the pout.  And because the discontented person doesn’t always know why they’re feeling that way, a sense of blame is transmitted to others. “You’ve interfered with me realizing my hopes”.  And the Other suffers a little.  Or a lot.

Whether or Not It Passes

As previously stated, a moment of clarity, that this is the one life you’ve got and it’s moving on and no one but you can become happy inside yourself, does make a big difference.  It can come at any age, but a huge appreciation for being alive may be required for a person to take responsibility for his/her own happiness.

But It Doesn’t End There

However, and here is the second big issue in the topic, being personally content with the life you’re in, and remaining DISCONTENT with the situation for the many many people who have burdens too heavy, in fairness, to carry, seems a mixture that’s required for a person to be useful in supporting social change.

One thing that working your way to personal contentment seems to provide is a sufficient degree of humility to not assume you know just what other people are going through.  We can have an idea of the burdens experienced by the world’s poor (including in our own country and cities) but we can never know what they personally experience in terms of living their values and hopes.  But our wealth and their poverty are too disparate and, depending on our values, we have some responsibility to address that inequality.  (Kevin O’Leary may not agree, but he’s another species).

So while many politically oriented folk disparage the Contented person, they may miss the point that poking away at the privileges of the moneyed classes can be undertaken very effectively by those who are not at all obsessed with their own degrees of personal happiness because they have learned to be happy.  Perhaps the most potent social justice advocates are those who have learned how precious life is and how wisely we have to use the days and hours left to us.



Filed under Rosemary's entries, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Contentedness and Social Justice: Mismatch?

  1. Karen Thorpe

    Loved this week’s blog. I think the next question is social justice advocacy – what does it look like?

  2. Stan Eaman

    I think your reflections on a fulfilling old age are right on. Fullfilment comes from our engagement with the world and our attempts to try and make it a better place- but this must be done with a peaceful heart otherwise we can easily cause more hatred and suffering.
    One of my heros is Thich Nhat Hanh- a Vietnamese buddhist monk who has been a voice for peace on the planet for the past 40 plus years. He is gentle, calm energetic and determined even in his mid 80’s and you can sense it in his being and in his eyes.
    As Sylvia Boornstein ( another of the jewish buddhist meditation teachers ) says in of her books ” Happiness is an Inside Job”.

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