I would rather die having spoken in my manner, than speak in your manner and live. For neither in war nor yet in law ought any man use every way of escaping death. For often in battle there is no doubt that if a man will throw away his arms, and fall on his knees before his pursuers, he may escape death, if a man is willing to say or do anything. The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding unrighteousness; for that runs deeper than death.
-Socrates, Apology of Socrates
I went jogging a few days ago. I do this every Sunday morning. I’ve found that I am much like a dog; I need to be let out every so often to prevent me from becoming restless.
It was a cold morning, well below freezing and windy. This made it a bit harder to motivate myself to get out. I had to remind myself about it isn’t so bad once you start moving. Proper clothing helps a great deal.
On my way to the park I usually jog in, I pass underneath a freeway. As I approached the overpass on this morning, I noticed something out of the ordinary. I was able to see several makeshift beds at a distance. They were mostly comprised of old rags for blankets, cardboard for mattresses, and random junk for pillows. The “beds” all lined up in a row. There must have been five of them on either side of the sidewalk. The makeshift hovels were crammed into whatever small shelter the overpass provided.
In a split second, my reptile brain alerted me. I thought about changing course. It told me it would be easy to find another route around this encampment. I overrode this thought just as quickly; there has been little in my past experience these kinds of people that would justify fear.
Within seconds, I had passed them. It is hard not to feel pity when faced with such destitution only a few feet from you. The cold only exacerbated it. They were barely recognizable as humans underneath the mountains of filth they piled on themselves to stave off the immense cold. It was evident they had very little on their mind besides warmth.
Almost as suddenly as they came, these thoughts were pushed out of my mind. It is hard to keep much focus when battling the elements with a pounding heart-rate. It wasn’t until I was winding down and heading homewards did my thoughts return to the huddled masses underneath the overpass.
They clearly weren’t living a good life. The essence of pity is empathy. Empathy stems from being able feel what another feels. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I was certain I would never be in their situation.
They live a life beyond what I consider worthwhile. Long before I ever reach that point, I would either force change upon my self or choose death. I value living well too much to have it any other way. Life for only for life’s sake is repulsive.
Modern society often takes the opposite view. In almost every action modernity makes that deals with life and death, this is no distinction does not show itself. Too often do people exist as former shells of themselves in nursing homes; they are simply waiting for death. Universal healthcare is seen as a basic right; all must be taken care of at any cost. Thousands of patients in hospitals around the world are dead to the world living in a vegetative state; they are only alive to the machines that give them a pulse. The sole imperative of this mindset is just to keep life going at any cost.
The distinction between life and a good life is where difference between heaven and hell begins. Societies with any sense at all instinctively know this difference. Where absolutes rule, madness reigns.