Friday, April 25, 2008
Beyond Food and Water
Have you ever heard of the hierarchy of needs? This is the idea that before you can make fine art or sing songs, you have to have food and shelter. I guess the theory is that cold and hungry people make bad art. Anyway, you get the idea. Well a few years ago I heard an expansion of this idea on NPR. The story was about a writer who I think was a social scientist. This guy had done a bunch of research on what makes a person feel happy and content with their life (or maybe he was some sort of new-age philosopher who just asserted what is to follow without any scientific evidence. To be quite honest I can’t remember the context at all….). And he had this really cool list of five crucial elements in life that you needed to have to feel satisfied with your existence. At the time that I heard the story I remember thinking that his five crucial elements made a lot of sense and that this would be a good framework for thinking about one’s life. Unfortunately, now, of course, I can’t remember a darn thing about the story – not who the guy was or what the five things were!
I do actually remember two of them and this weekend I had a wonderful fulfillment of one of his elements. The two that I remember are meaningful work – work that you feel makes a contribution to the world. He said this didn’t have to be your paying job, it could be volunteer work or whatever. And the second one that I remember was being part of a community. It was this community aspect that I really missed after leaving graduate school. In graduate school I had a great community of friends and mentors and colleagues. But in southern California while I really enjoy my co-workers, everyone lives scattered all over southern California so I never see them outside of work. And apart from Seth and Elise, we have very few friends in our new hometown of Ventura.
But now, thanks to Lucy and Josie, that has all changed. I did not anticipate that one of the fringe benefits of having kids would be getting to know loads of new people in our community. Through daily visits to our neighborhood park and our participation in our community’s First Five program, we have gotten to know dozens of great families. While many of these people may differ from me in politics or religion or eating preferences or hair style, or fashion, we have our kids in common. And they are all so nice. Nice counts for a lot in my book. Niceness is seriously under-rated.
On Sunday, as I was driving home from the grocery store, I saw two different families that I know from the park, and I waved as I passed them. And this simple act of seeing people that I know, walking around my neighborhood, made me like Ventura is my home and that if I dropped off the face of the earth someone other than Mitch might actually notice (I know my far away friends would notice but it might take a while considering what a crap correspondent I am). I know there are lots of other ways to meet people and make a community other than having kids (volunteering, joining clubs, etc.). But for me, Josie and Lucy have helped fill out another piece of my missing world. Waving at my neighbors is a simple thing, a simple thing that definitely adds to my happiness at being a human in this place at this time.