In the Katha Veda found in the Upanishads, Nachiketa is praised by the god reffered to as the King of Death for choosing to know the secret of death rather than choosing the many earthly desires he was tempted with. Immediately upon granting Nachiketa his wish, the god issues a statement about why his decision was so noteworthy.
The good is one thing; the pleasant is another. These two, differing in their ends, both prompt to action. Blessed are they that choose the good; they that choose the pleasant miss the goal.
I think upon first examination, all decisions fall in the diagram above. Sometimes the good and the pleasant meet up- you get to choose one thing that is both the right thing to do and the fun thing to do. That’s sweet and easy. What makes life such a bitch is that most of the time the two don’t overlap. Usually you’re asked to choose between both of those.
- Whether to work out or veg out
- Whether to do my job or screw around on the net
- Whether to pay attention to my daughter or be selfish
On the one hand, I’ve found that you can sometimes force yourself to make the right decisions- to choose the good over the pleasant. A lot of people I know can do that- they’ll sacrifice what they could have right now for something better in the future. I admire those folks, but I’m not always ready to do that.
For several years I did. I lead what some people see as an ascetic lifestyle, foregoing a lot of the stuff that at the time was labeled “pleasant, but sinful.” During that time I accomplished some great things, I grew up a lot, and I got a lot of what I have right now. I also got really burnt out.
Nowadays, I look for more opportunities to choose both the good AND the pleasant. It’s not always possible, but if you look around there’s ways to stretch those circles and make the overlap larger:
- I can work out with a friend, making working out seem like vegging
- I can work on projects that are fun to me, and utilize what I know about the net
- I can take Paige with me to do things we both enjoy, and get over my selfishness by realizing that paying attention to her MAKES my life more fun and meaningful
So I look for the opportunities to be able to do the rightish thing- to chose both the Good AND the Pleasant. I know it’s cheating but it’s been working for a while. It’s also not always possible, and that’s where we all have to be big boys and girls and do the right thing.
I stumble a lot in my goal to choose the Good, because the Pleasant is just so immediately gratifying. I still spend too much money, procrastinate too much and indulge in the firewater a bit more than my liver probably wants. I know that by doing so, I’m not building the kind of character that sacrifice does, and I’m not learning the things that Nachiketa did. But life isn’t just about doing the right thing, and it’s not all about building character- there’s something to be said about doing the wrong thing on occasion. That’s for a another post, though.