A Confused Rhetoric

A few days ago in my work place a seminar was organized on Work-Life balance an admirable personality was invited to speak. She is a Ph.D scholar who is involved in many social development activities.

It was a very interesting talk. I did enjoy that much and did admire her for the work she was doing and also for her confidence and presentation skills.

Her talk was edging on philosophy because it is difficult to talk about work-life balance without giving enough philosophical base as to why it is an issue of ethics and not just preferences. She had to give a framework to what she was talking about and she resorted to have the purpose of life as the framework from which to address this topic.

Of course, all this philosophic perspective was not explicit in her talk, it was the implicit assumption or the base on which her talk rested. Here, I am stating the unstated framework to put in the right perspective what I am about to say.

She said that if anyone should be caught up in anything which makes them feel unhappy she said they should quit it. The purpose of life she said was to be happy. For, example is anyone is caught up on a relationship that does not give happiness that they ought to quit it. And she substantiated it by confirming that it is a good thing that 40% of marriages in Mumbai are ending up in divorce, because now people undeterred by archaic values could decide to pull out of relationships of any form, anytime they felt not happy enough.

Pursuit of happiness became the purpose of life and Gross Happiness Product was the well being index of life. Always be happy, be happy, be happy was her recurring rhetoric. When she says so with a sweet smiling face you can’t really be critical about the content. If you don’t feel happy then change something external so that you’ll become happy was her advice.

Such rhetoric is nice to hear but if we were to step back and look at life we would find that when happiness, which is attained by manipulating the external factor, is sought as the goal of life and where happiness is made as the index of well being, there is where happiness is most elusive. And any form of aimless happiness, which is happiness for the sake of happiness, only leads to greater misery. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World lays clear the dystopia in the utopian world where aimless happiness is sought as the highest virtue.

If we look back at our ancestor who were not that happiness crazy, we find that to them happiness was not something to be pursued but a state of mind that was the byproduct of a person being himself or herself. Somehow this truth does not resonate with anything in the mind of the modern man whose being is permeated by the noise and din of the happiness crazy world.

The other rule of life which she espoused was about loving all people. Objectively speaking, there was no reason why pursuit of happiness has to take ‘loving people’ as a normative in life. Sartre said “each is the other’s hell”. Some may say that when you love people you’ll automatically be happy, to justify that her second normative of loving people follows the first to pursue happiness as the purpose of life. But this proves that happiness only comes as a by-product when love is made the purpose. So if this argument proves anything, it is that happiness can only be really felt when it is attained as a by-product of something greater.

All she said was fine, but the problem was that her framework did not give enough basis for loving people to be made a normative. In fact to really love people one has to go through much pain, for love is never free. Free love cannot be love at all. Love has to have a cost. The cost to be paid for true love is the relinquishment of the selfish pursuit of happiness as the sole purpose of life. For where self asserts itself there love cannot be.

Her rhetoric did not cohere into a system it created conflicting normative. It was confusing rhetoric, at one point life was all about pursing ones own happiness on the other side life was all about loving people.

Looking a little deeper as to why the system did not cohere is because there wasn’t enough of a base on which to rest such normatives. God alone can give enough of a base for the framework, else they all become naïve affirmations and consequently confusing rhetoric.

Without God man hasn’t enough dignity to deserve anything in life and consequently all talk about work-life balance becomes just a series of affirmation or rhetoric which do not create a coherent system. Unless there is a system where the system creator has bestowed dignity on something all perception of inherent dignity becomes a necessary illusion. When such is the base for the frame of life all one is left with is confusing rhetoric.