Having said that, the oddest conundrum is that we are in most respects as free as the birds, at least so long as we behave like the birds. By that I mean we must keep ourselves in tune with our environment and our needs. Anything more or less is skirting either negligence or frivolity, not exactly the happiest compounds. By way of further refinement I mean that in our natural state our situation is, with some exceptions for those of us who are really disadvantaged, not that complicated. Where the fun begins is when we choose to perplex an otherwise simple state of circumstances. It is, for example, no accident that many of the most successful people in the world are the most down-to-earth, not common or unsophisticated, just fundamental. In the scheme of things any one of us would be fooling ourselves to imagine that we’ve got it all figured out or that we have the slightest idea of what is on the horizon. The future can change in an instant. While most of us acknowledge the possibility of that distortion, it invariably comes as a complete shock when the possibility is in fact realized. It is only then that we start back-pedaling in an attempt to regain some lost ground which by then may or may not be too late depending on the extent of the damage.
To continue the bird motif, we have to be careful not to fly too high. Getting ourselves into lofty heights, whether (as some do) by standing on others or (as others do) by imagining we can sail with impunity in any direction, is a treacherous business. This isn’t to suggest we mustn’t aim high in our aspirations, but rather it is a reminder that getting there requires the observance of both discretion and even a degree of modesty. A brazen blockhead is easily tumbled. Better to travel under the radar, as the saying goes, both for one’s personal sanity and to avoid the precipitous repercussions of jealous or malicious bystanders, not to mention life’s own inevitable hardships.
Although it smacks of Oriental philosophy to say so and may thus appear to border upon the fantastic, I believe it helps in the conduct of one’s life to recognize the element of stewardship in all that we do and enjoy. If nothing else the concept, though not demeaning, is at least humbling. It reminds us that we are at best temporary caretakers of the fruits of this world; or, as my father has often commented in a more robust turn of phrase, “Money doesn’t disappear, it just changes hands!” The same of course can be said of anything. Assuming that the accumulation of things or money is at least partly the objective of a good deal of the human race, it makes sense to recall that you can’t take it with you. To be gluttonous about life’s harvest is both mortifying and unintelligent. Mortifying because over-indulgence will indeed kill you. Unintelligent because it offends the principles of nicety and discernment, those delicate maxims of taste.
Bringing to the communal table of humanity a level of dignity is certainly not without its value. Almost by definition a predilection for such behaviour is uplifting, a credit to both oneself and others. But it demands precision, intuitiveness and balance, much like that tight rope walker. To carry on otherwise is to snap one’s fingers at the world, not just fate, and likely with as much success. The modification of our natural state is a perilous undertaking. It gives new meaning to messing with fire. Granted there may be moments during which one can escape the wrath of the greater powers, but believe me they will win in the end. As mere specks of sand within this universe we have enough trouble sustaining the blowing winds of change without adding to our trials.