January Jeremiad


They have decided that tomorrow is Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. We all know that ‘they’ like to decide for us. Only this time, they provide proof, in the shape of a formula. I won’t even try. Sometimes Wikipedia rules.

Meanwhile, tomorrow, Belgium, more precisely Flanders, sees the launch of a ‘No Nagging’ campaign. They have decided (they are busy) to have the ‘No Nagging’ campaign start on Blue Monday, which seems ominous enough. But worse, the campaign, encouraging people not to nag or complain in an effort to promote positivity, is set to last thirty days, ending on, you have guessed it, Valentine’s Day.

Scary.  For what could be more dangerous than the final release of a built up congestion on the most emotionally laden day of the year?

Furthermore, I object. To all of it, to the positivity dictate in particular.

Bear with me.

Our taste receptors identify five ‘tastes’ or ‘flavours’: sweet, salt, sour, bitter and the ever effusive umami. These flavours are complementary and when used in the right proportion, they enhance, counterbalance and strengthen their respective qualities. Achieve the perfect blend of these five elements and you have a dish, fit for a king. Likewise, our emotional range is wide and varied. Relief, guilt, anxiety, sadness, happiness, joy and excitement interact, intermingle, fuse and combine. One does not, should not, dominate the other. Neither precludes the other.

The real power lies in the mix.

Every day, I count my blessings. But while I acknowledge what I am grateful for, I also note life’s little frustrations and try and learn how to deal with them. Acceptance of imperfections and a will to improve , rather than denial and the need for a cosmetic, cheery version of what others define as ‘happiness’.

Happiness? The umami of life? The main ingredient of well-being? Or a link in the chain of self-imposed limitations, inevitably distancing ourselves from potential fulfillment.

As for Blue Monday, with the words of Khalil Gibran,

I would not exchange the sorrows of my heart
For the joys of the multitude
And I would not have the tears that sadness makes
To flow from my every part turn into laughter

I would that my life remain a tear and a smile

And there is always Tuesday ….

The Return of the Doubt

Indecision is seldom listed as a quality. Hesitation is rarely valued. People in general, employers and voters in particular, do not abide by indecisiveness and look for and place their trust in determined candidates and contenders; strong characters with firm ideas. Potential or celebrated leaders. Leadership.
Most careers and certainly all political careers are based on certainty. Politicians worldwide choose a side, advocate their viewpoint and while their acolytes might demand transparency, authenticity and openness, they will not stand for doubt. And sometimes rightly so.

Certainty as an attribute.
Contingency plans require preparation and, in its eventual action phase, a resolute response. After all, when an emergency occurs, when the enemy attacks, there is little time for debate. Developing a contingency plan however cannot take place in a pre-fabricated certainty-infused environment. What is needed is debate, options, alternatives, questioning. In short, we need doubt.
Politically, doubt is a no-no. Yet its counterpart, certainty, however commendable at times, is also limiting.Certainty is a one way street. My way or no way. At its worst, it is a cul de sac.

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”

“Small doubt, small enlightenment; big doubt, big enlightenment.”
Korean Zen master Nine Mountain

Doubt, Moderation, Mildness
Within the religious debate, doubt, like belief, takes up a central place. Doubt requires thoughtfulness. It leads us away from doctrine and theology and makes our religious experience our own. A personal experience, embedded in a social, theological and ecclesiastic community. Doubt is the initiator, pushing us to make the leap. Doubt makes us human in the face of our Gods, it is the humanizing factor in the search for our convictions, widens our horizon and softens our edges.
In this perspective, Aristotle celebrated the virtue of mildness, the settling down and quieting of anger, arguing that the moral good always lies between two extremes. That being said, Aristotle was tutor to Alexander the Great.

Modesty at the price of slaughter.

Doubt and mildness , precursors of moderation?
The prophetic tradition is seldom radical. Its interpretation however often is. Moderation on the other hand, as the opposite of radicalism, remains a vague concept. The risk of moderation is its demise of a desired future, replacing all possible futures with a spiritless nihilism. And nihilism, child of anarchy, is an easy option, preferable to both lawlessness and limitless freedom.
With its taste for more, freedom is intoxicating. A mere sample will haunt the taste buds, yet offered in free flow quantities, it is for many difficult to handle. Either a wild card, an acquired taste, a fought for principle, freedom is a skill, a power one needs to learn to wield.
The limiting of freedom is as problematic and so the question needs to be put, do those who wish to set boundaries to our liberties do so in order to reject loathsome ideas or do they act out of apprehension, the fear of being wrong?

Doubts, certainties, moderation and freedom; interlinked notions, healthily questioned, resolved and explained through knowledge and understanding.

Today is Blue Monday, supposedly the most depressing day of the year. A doubtful thesis we will take with moderation. Waiting for tomorrow.