Some of you will remember a halcyon time last year when we discussed the Apollonian world of real things and the Dionysian world of unreal things. The real world contains things like hamsters, copper wire, the Empire State Building. The unreal world holds concepts like law, dignity, joy. And we live in both those worlds at the same time.
End of recap: here’s the new stuff
When you’re trying to fix a problem, it’s important to remember that Apollonian currency can’t always purchase Dionysian goods (you can’t buy love). Conversely, you can’t use Dionysian funds to pay your Apollonian bills (you can’t make a sandwich with nothing but enthusiasm).
Some of you may be thinking, “well, maybe I can a little bit” and I agree that both the above statements are only 95% true when you’re dealing with a world full of people.
If you buy a material present for a friend, aren’t they going to like you more? Perhaps. Not necessarily. If your gift is thoughtful... shows insight... a gentle sense of humour… you see where I’m going with this. What you’re giving isn’t just the gift (however useful it might be); what you’re giving is the message I care about you. That’s what lifts your gesture out of being a simple material transaction. You may be able to achieve a deeper level of friendship by doing something straightforward like listening to a long story without interrupting very often.
The Cup of Plenty
Back in the 1950s, when managers assumed that all their workers were essentially robots*, the prevailing philosophy was that you could motivate people to work harder by offering hard cash. However, once we reach a certain level of material comfort, we become more concerned about unreal concepts, such as respect, gratitude, recognition. There’s an inexhaustible supply of this stuff – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to produce, especially since these emotions have to be heartfelt to have any impact. Still, it’s important to remember: the things we care about the most are intangible.
* so history tells us
The Bottomless Hole
What drives you? What are you striving to fulfil? If there was something you lacked when you were growing up, it can become a powerful incentive that propels you throughout your entire adult life, even if the original issue has been dealt with a hundred times over. We’ve romanticised the idea of the person who struggles with schoolwork but then goes on to discover some grand scientific theorem like general relativity, but I’m not interested in dramatic stories that apply to only a few individuals. What’s more useful is recognizing that facing obstacles can power you up with a never-ending well of motivation.
But if it is something that really troubles you, a frustration that you can't seem to shake, then remember: the answer is almost certainly going to involve some Dionysian concept, rather than something material like a new possession or a new location.
I wish for you a difficult quest, something you almost, but never quite achieve; and in the non-completion, in the sense you can always do that little bit extra, I hope there is an engine that powers you.