Monday, February 4, 2008


I love that title, it makes me seem mad, and to a certain extent I am. However, the real point of the post is going to be what is enough. I'll give credit where credit is due.... The ideas for this post come directly from Sara who often has some very insightful posts. You should visit her.

Anyway, I like to discuss simplicity and how to live with less. Then comes the big question, how much is enough? I really get torn on this topic. A book that I highly recommend, Your Money or Your Life, suggests that 'enough' depends on the individual person and their circumstances. Everyone likes that, it's cute and it means that I can say, "Yeah, I'm at that level so I don't have to do anything to change". Then I can live a stagnant life and think real highly of myself for my conformity to ideals that I like.

I really don't like relativism. My personal views of this world are pretty black and white. I think there is truth and error. It doesn't depend on what you believe, what religion you belong to or how much money you have. There is truth and if it isn't truth it is error. You can criticize me for that if you want, but you're wrong. (that was an attempt at philosophical humor.) In all honesty, one of the truths that I hold at the greatest value is that of respect. Even if you don't agree with me, I respect your views. In fact, I would like to hear your views because I don't claim to have a monopoly on truth. I may want to discuss our differences and that may be perceived as an argument (my appologies for that), but I do want to know why you believe what you do and I'm unwilling to accept your idea of truth without questioning it.

I got off task, that relativism is a tough subject for me. What really gets to me is the idea that we can do whatever we want and still think we're doing everything right. Isn't this life about growing and improving? So shouldn't we set our sights on an idealistic goal and pursue it? Sure we may never make it, but I would rather live a life striving for purpose than to live a life of complacency.

I want to live a simple life. I have read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and I admire that level of simplicity. Abandoning all of your possessions except a loin cloth. Relying on the kindness of others for food and all of your needs. There's something beautiful about it. On my visit to Wikipedia, I just noticed that Siddhartha means, "he who has attained his goals", I like that. Is that my goal in life? I don't think so. I have a wife and family that I want to support. They are of the utmost importance to me and I want them to be a part of my simple lifestyle.

So here I am, still stuck. How much is enough? In this story a loincloth was enough for the man. If I say that I need more than that to have enough, doesn't that mean that I'm taking a relativist approach? I really don't like relativism. Hypothetically we'll say that the story took it too far. In reality a 1,000 square foot house is the perfect size for a family of 4. Does that mean I get another 250 square feet because I just had another kid? Does that mean that all of the people in the world who have less than 250 square feet each don't have enough? Oddly enough, many of those people with 'less' are happier and, as far as the important things in life go, they have more.

So maybe the goal isn't how to limit stuff, but rather how to maximize happiness. I truly believe that happiness comes through simplicity and spending time with and interacting with people rather than stuff. So who is the happiest person alive? I don't have a clue. I doubt that it corresponds with money or stuff. I would consider myself a competitor for the happiest man alive (although I really don't know how to measure it), and I am pretty sure I'm below the poverty line. What I lack in money, I more than compensate for with a wonderful family and being able to spend time with them. There is a lot I still want to do with my life, especially in the area of simplifying.

Maybe that is the underlying truth. Maybe it is the pursuit of truth that brings happiness. I really like that idea, except that different people have different ideas of truth which leads us back to the problem of relativism. I don't have answers (which anyone who reads this blog regularly already knew), but I want to know what you think.


Anonymous said...


I am one of those long time reader/lurker types. I came from fattys for the nutrition stuff you posted, then stayed for the rest.

I just wanted to say how much I admire your principles, and how closely you adhere to them. Now obviously that is conjecture on my part, because all I have to go on is your blog. But if you are making this up, I am in awe of your ability to lie.

Question: Do you ever feel that with more money you could do more good? This isn't a criticism of your simplicity stance at all. I just wonder what you think about it.

Best regards,
(a UK YSA)

Christopher Johnson said...

Well, here's a fine example of two individuals miles apart thinking alike. I've struggled mightily with those very questions. It would be a privilege to sit and compare thoughts in more detail over coffee. Instead, I'll have to raise these questions to those that are closer to home, but have no interest in such matters.

As I recall, you have mentioned previously that you are a religious man. Assuming you are a student of the Bible, it is interesting to consider Jesus' teaching in Matthew 25:14-30. It seems to me there are some paradoxical lessons regarding relativism in there. But, alas, elaboration would be better suited for a different forum.

Vertigo said...

You have me curious, Christopher...

Sans, it seems that everyone knows what 'Not enough' means, but defining 'enough' is much more difficult. We also seem to know what 'too much' is when we see it.
Perhaps we can learn something from the 'Fallacy of the Beard' in philosophy. "Just because we don't know where stubble ends and beard begins, does not mean we cannot tell the difference between a bearded man and a clean-shaven man."

While I agree with your stance on relativism, possibly this is an area where 'enough' is relative to the person and the situation.

In equatorial regions of the world, perhaps a loincloth would be enough. Here above 49N, it would not be enough at this time of year.

Three weeks ago, in our family, bikes, feet and public transit were enough. Now that my sife is pregnant, we may need to change that.

A worthwhile discussion.

Vertigo said...

Interesting...Jill, Up in Alaska, just wrote about 'stuff'. It is a great read. Make sure you click the link to 'The Story of Stuff' at the bottom.

Vertigo said...

...copy and paste in two parts...

Nate said...

I'm curious to read Christopher's interpretation of Matthew 25:14-30. I see it not as a case in relativism, but as a case in stewardship.

One man was given 5 talents, another 2, and another 1. In an absolute sense, theses men were different. But when the day of reckoning came, their Lord was only concerned about their performance relative to what they had. If we divide the talent given with the talents gained by the first two men mentioned, each has 1. All the last man had to do was gain 1 additional talent and he would have been accepted.

On the surface, this looks like a relative comparison in judgment. But such an analysis begs the question: are there relative requirements to get into heaven? Can we each keep relative amounts of commandments and get the same reward? I don't think so.

The commandments for all are the same. The apparent relativism in this parable comes, I think, in the form of stewardship. Each man was endowed with a certain quantity of spiritual or temporal gifts. How each used those gifts while their Lord was away dictated their worthiness to enter into their Lord's rest.

A similar comparison can be drawn from the account of the widow's mite. Both the widow and the rich were keeping the commandment governing their contribution. But the widow gave more in proportion to what she had. Because she kept the commandment to the fullest extent possible (giving all she had) she was worthy of a greater reward. Come judgment day perhaps the rich folks from that account will be accounted as the man with 1 talent: unwilling to do all they could to keep the commandment.

Just some thoughts; not intended to stir up debate but open dialogue.

Christopher Johnson said...

Hey Nate, I agree with you. I think the primary intent of that passage is stewardship. I've just always noticed that different things were acceptable for different persons. I think you noticed it yourself when you said, "relative to what they had". The paradoxical part, in my view, is that Jesus requires the same thing from everyone...all we have. As others have said, no argument intended on my part, just ponderings.

Nate said...

Well said, Christopher. The nicest part about the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it is adapted to the weakest of all, yet it has the power to exalt all alike.

Anonymous said...

all good discussion. i read a fabulous article just the other day about "giving". see:

i have always believed that being content with what we have is only good if we are ready to give it all away. not hoarding - but gathering. my husband and i love nothing more than to share what we have, and as this article points out, that usually means you get more. i believe we are given more as we give it away simply because we have proven that we are "Good stewards". obviously, my husband and i are not perfect, but there is joy in having an abundance so that you can always help another in need.

just some thoughts - love the discussion.