One of the reasons we decided to move the family to the other side of the globe was something that often gets called “work/ life balance”. It’s one of those modern phrases that people nod enthusiastically about, and everyone understands on a general level, but not many take time to quantify.
Is it a statement of time, and how much you dedicate to each activity? Is it a statement of quality? The longer I spend away from my former life, the more I understand that the balance I have addressed is the amount of influence each has on my mental state. I spend roughly the same amount of time in an office as I used to, in the same sort of setup, but psychologically, I'm a world away.
The social experiment conducted by the Washington Post in 2007 is doing the rounds of social media again – for those who missed it Joshua Bell played in a Subway station and collected $40 – and still provoking discussion. Hardly surprising though when, as the article so succinctly says:
“It's an old epistemological debate, older, actually, than the koan about the tree in the forest. Plato weighed in on it, and philosophers for two millennia afterward: What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?”
I have my own view (of course), the summary of which is that beauty is absolute, but needs to be observed in order to be recognised. Put simply, you have to have the space in your head to let it in or it will pass you by.
Earlier this week I answered the phone to Keith, his voice thick with emotion:
“I’m standing on the deck looking out on about 25 dolphins playing in the bay. It’s the most amazing thing I've seen in my life”.
And he was right, it was amazing: Not the dolphins themselves, but the reaction to them.
My bus ride home took me along the shore of the bay where the dolphins were playing. It was lined with people of all ages just looking, and pointing, and smiling. The bus slowed to a crawl as we all stood and looked out of the windows open mouthed.
It was 5.30 on Monday evening when I stepped off the bus to join the bystanders: Rumbling tummies, homework and all manner of “better things” were left undone.
For a few minutes we all stood and smiled and if only for a few minutes, gave beauty a little space in our lives.