I have long struggled to shed my childhood penchant for instant gratification. Though aware of the need to pace myself for the long haul, I nonetheless prioritize the power of the current moment, with no regrets. Of course, I am not so reckless as to obliterate my obligations to my daughter, to my law partner, to my career, to my family, to my community. But, with each personal and national tragedy, I am again reminded that, for me, reserving fun and accomplishment for an uncertain date hence is anathema.
As the gray and white hairs of wisdom begin to populate my visage, I have realized that the divide between short- and long-term happiness is a false dichotomy. Fearing that I was forsaking my future for today’s enjoyment, I had not found intellectual peace with that which feels intuitively correct. By embracing the long view of life, I was able to reconcile the immediate with the infinite, to be at once spontaneous and prudent.
The long view requires a recognition that, assuming time is linear, the quibbles of the present are a comically small blip on the spectrum of history. Consider this thought exercise: if we posit that the Earth was formed at midnight and you are reading this page twenty-four hours later at the next midnight, then humans arrived on the scene at 11:59:59, a mere minute ago. As a species, we are inconsequential in geologic time. As individuals, we matter that much less. Internalizing that perspective helps manage the pressure.
The long view need not stretch for epochs to be effective. It can provide a coping mechanism for the heaviness of daily living. Today may present seemingly impossible challenges, but believing that the next week or month or year will bring positive change is the type of incentive that we all need to tackle each day. Especially now.
The long view is particularly useful in conflict resolution. Locked in a dispute, the parties each feel as if it is all-encompassing and never-ending; the anger of the quarrel taints each waking and slumbering moment. But, if one realizes that the underlying issue will not matter in a week’s or year’s or decade’s time, it is that much more compelling to drop the matter immediately, to not subject oneself to the torture of fighting about something that really does not matter in the long run.
Our sociopolitical and economic systems are dysfunctional because they ignore the long view in favor of short election cycles and the immediate accumulation of capital. We should be patiently building a society, tending to its needs with advances in thought and medicine and technology. Instead, we plunder our human and environmental resources in order to enrich the greediest, most ruthless, most shameless among our citizens. I tend to believe that the health of our planet and the psyche of our citizenry are the most important ends, but perhaps I am insane.
My focus is on quality time with Violet, deeper connections with fewer clients, long days out skiing and biking, animated meals with friends. In so doing, I forego material wealth and other trappings of alleged success. Theoretically it is a conundrum; but it never seems as such to me. Taking the long view, I will never look back as an old man and regret that I took the time to savor those irreplaceable moments.