The Glass Half Full

Tom Morris tells the story of his son who when only a teen proclaimed he had resolved the “half full, half empty glass parable”. Rather than simply recount the expected relativist position and put any doubts to his optimistic attitude to rest, he said, “It depends. If you were filling the glass up just before you got to that point, it’s half full. If you were drinking from it or pouring it out just before that, then it’s half empty.” Epiphany! Indeed Tom is right to delight in his son’s thoughtful reply. And indeed as he further gestures the lesson to be gleaned is whether one has involved oneself in the task of filling or emptying that glass called life.

Tom asks these questions: “Have you been emptying it out, dissipating your energies, squandering your deepest self, alienating those who are closest to you, and as a result losing things of real value – or have you been filling up your life in the best possible way, adding elements of true value and deep worth to your daily experience? Have you been depleting or enriching yourself? What real process has been going on up until now, and is perhaps still presently occurring in your life, right now, or in your business? Where have you been, in this regard, and where are you now going?”

I’d like to take up another consideration. Even when seen within this novel – thank-you Tom and Matt – perspective the congratulatory attitude that we’d all hope to engender in our children is, of course, the latter. Let’s augment rather than deplete. Let’s have more rather than less of a good thing. Fill your life with all those things that contribute to a life well lived! My concern is this. And by no means am I here suggesting that this was Tom Morris’ (nor his son Matt’s for that matter) meaning or intention in his piece which, by the way you can find here:

The attitude tends to speak to that seemingly innocuous goal of human life, which is to fully realize your potential, to become the absolute best version of yourself, and to do this by tapping in on all the “positives”. I worry about two things. I worry that once on this train “going places” that there is no getting off for no apparent reason. That every train becomes an express train making only the most essential stops and that the programmatic life of practical wisdom is so teleologically committed to the goal of human happiness or flourishing that idleness, unavailing endeavours, foolishness are all hurled to the wasteland. So sure go off on a nature’s walk, break up your day and go for a run, and certainly have some down time to recoup but only so long as and for so long as it’s consistent with the healthy, active pursuit of living well. The good life is after all according to Aristotle a well-planned life. But I am speaking to the unplanned part of living, the spontaneous, the random, the times at which you unthinkingly throw yourself into your present. What off this “decadent” time? There are such treasures to be discovered in life that are not part of a planned life because they truly do not acquiesce to the structured and performative measures that would (or is it could?) otherwise be enlisted.

The second thing that concerns me is that so much in life is stumbled upon in the process or act of living. Such things are not benchmarked as either the goal or the means of bringing decidedly pertinent virtues (in Greek these are excellences of character) to fruition. I wonder then whether once immersed in this mindset whether one will one be taken up in the task so as to miss the unanticipated glories of life. Can one jump off that express train? Goals can be shorthand for structure that can signpost bends and turns on the track. Yet other times the threat of derailing the monster and endanger the whole enterprise called life becomes imminent. How will you decide?


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