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A Difficult Balance

Much of life is about doing quite mundane, sometimes repetitious things well enough. This seems an inescapable truth. Yet a life full to the brim of such things would seem appallingly unfulfilled. We need passion, excitement, intensity, excellence, difference too.

I’m intrigued by how people fail to balance these things (and, to be honest, how I have failed to achieve this balance in the past). I look back and see individuals hurl themselves off the deep end. One danger is simply drowning. The road past our house is used by bikers to let rip on (it undulates and curves, and I can see why it’s fun to ride at speed). But there have been several deaths on it in last few years. My dear friend Margo drank herself to death: it was a horrible sight. I have sensed the power of addiction myself, but fortunately not strong enough to lure me in. But the lure was there. It was partly the lure of intensity. Why live a dull, ordinary life when you can stagger from high to high?

Another danger of going all out for intensity is selfishness. I’m fascinated by Jack Kerouac’s 'On the Road', loving it in some ways – there’s a man who will stop at nothing to chase experience – but in other ways being repelled by the self-centredness of the main character.

Yet I have also seen the opposite, a militant mediocrity that stamps down on all striving, difference and individualism in the name of social rules, efficiency and social position. To name names would be unkind, but some people of my parents’ generation were this kind of odious bully. My guess is that they were secretly afraid of some deeper, more adventurous side of themselves, but I don’t know, as they were never going to confide in me (or, probably, anyone else). My own parents had this side to their character – people did in those days – but also a secret rebelliousness that manifested itself in odd, attractive ways like my dad’s lovely dark sense of humour.

How to get that balance? How to do the necessary stuff with pride, but not become hung up on orderliness and fitting in? How to find one’s own routes to intense, passionate experience while remaining grounded, sociable and kind? Looking round, it’s fascinating to see how people manage to achieve this balance (or fail to). Looking inside – well, I hope I’m making a reasonable job of it, but there is still a lot to learn.

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