In my ongoing crusade (oops, politically incorrect verbiage, make that “effort”) to apply Plotinus’s 3rd century Greek philosophy to my 21st century life, I made a small step forward last week at Office Depot. I consider myself to be an environmentalist, a Green believer, a worshipper at the shrine of Sustainability.
Yet throughout the past several years of my book-writing, every time I needed more paper I came home with reams of regular “92 Bright” Office Depot paper. I liked the extra brightness of the paper. It seemed to make my Plotinian prose shine more brilliantly, or so I fantasized. Meanwhile, Laurel used EnviroCopy Recycled Copy Paper, and her words shone forth upon a muted base of only 84 Brightness.
Thursday I made another stop at Office Depot and reached out to grab my usual paper choice. As my hand touched the ream, I heard my mind quoting my own words. This usually is a writer’s delight. But that day I was brought face-to-face with my hypocrisy. For in the “Philosophy as a Way of Life” chapter, I say:
“The face we present to others when we respond to the question ‘What do you believe in?’ generally is a mask that disguises, to a lesser or greater degree, our hidden heartfelt beliefs and desires. By contrast, the goal of a person who aspires to philosophy as life is to significantly narrow, if not eliminate completely, the gap between his philosophy of life and his life.
Then there is no need for him to utter a word when queried about what he believes in, because his everyday actions, including his demeanor at the very moment the question is asked, comprise the complete honest answer. The philosophy he espouses then is not something that explains his life; his life explains the philosophy he espouses.”
OK, I admit I didn’t hear all of that playing back inside my head. However, I definitely did see His Life Explains the Philosophy He Espouses flashing on the inner marquee of my mind. And that made my hand draw back from my previously beloved bright white copy paper. I walked down the aisle and picked up five reams of EnviroCopy. After I paid for them and put them into the back compartment of our Prius, I felt like I had made a small but significant step in the direction of philosophical honesty and consistency.
Pierre Hadot, a Classics scholar, says that what differentiates ancient from modern philosophy is this: in the good old philosophical days anyone who truly lived like a Stoic, for example, was considered a Stoic philosopher and even a Stoic sage, even if he or she never wrote or taught a lick of philosophy. Now, Hadot says, “In modern university philosophy, philosophy is no longer a way of life or form of life—unless it be the form of life of a professor of philosophy.”
I hate hypocrites. I hate it when George Bush promises in 2000 that he will be a compassionate conservative and will pursue a humble foreign policy, then in 2004 (and before) does just the opposite. But if I hate George Bush’s hypocrisy, I also have to hate my own. Or, being more gentle with myself, to dislike it. For I’m very much attracted to the idea that my life should explain my beliefs, that if people want to know my philosophy of life, all they have to do is look at my life. This has to be more than an idea, though. It has to become reality.
I’m a long ways from achieving such consistency between my words and my actions. Still, I give myself a small psychic pat on my own back every time I see those reams of EnviroCopy paper sitting on the shelf.
All quotations are from “Return to the One," by yours truly.