Think that sounds too cerebral? Nah. It only sounds like some fancy philosophical term.
Here’s how I define existential relativism: my own private shit show.
See? Not at all learned or esoteric.
Here’s how this got started: I wrote a blog piece the other day that garnered a thoughtful and lengthy comment, that in so many words, called me out on my whining.
Oh, boo-hoo, Jenna, I feel so bad for you “working” in your comfortable (safe) house in your comfortable chair typing away at your comfortable desk and taking breaks to practice yoga and paw through healthful selections at your local grocery store that you comfortably drive to in your fully functional car through lovely neighborhoods and by pastoral scenes. You’re breaking my heart.
Bear in mind that when someone “in my position” has the audacity to compare herself to the top echelon of breadwinners in corporate America, only to arrive at the conclusion that my life, though replete of a six- (or even five-) figure salary, is still pretty good, there will be a critic waiting in the wings to point out all the other people who dwell, precariously, at the very bottom.
Her (loving) dressing down made me think of an iceberg: Corporate Americans get the very best view from the apex. I’m at the surface with my head comfortably above water. Most of our planet’s co-inhabitants are drowning.
She was right to make her point, which was “YOU are a fortunate soul!!” (Her exact words which were doubly strong, as evidenced by her use of two !s.) However, once she drew the comparison between my position and the majority of humanity’s, I couldn’t help but feel doubly upset by my placement on the continuum!! (Yes, I, too, just employed the doubly-emphatic “!!” to illustrate the duality of being at water-level “under” those who own vesting stock options, hence the 1st !, and being “well above” those living in poverty and/or in fear, hence the 2nd !
So begins the anxiety-provoking self assessment of “what am I doing with my life?”
Looking to the past, should I have sought out the sort of work that includes a generous “compensation package” so that I could grab life by the horns and live it to my selfish desires? Conversely, should I have dedicated my every waking hour to alleviate the suffering of others? With 46 years gone, and having not fully committed myself to either of those, is there still time to make a change?
Or more honestly, should I, instead, ask, “Do you even want to make that change?”
Having the awareness that there is more life to live and many options before me ought to feel freeing, a real “you still have your whole life ahead of you” moment of clarity. (Choice A) But balance that open-ended opportunity against “you have squandered the best years of your life trapped in routine of non-action borne of fear of the unknown.” (Choice B)
No matter how one individually (i.e., existentially) chooses to see this moment standing at the crossroads between Choice A and Choice B, the position itself is ultimately paralyzing.
I could climb up, using an ice pick and a pair of crampons and join the “go-getters” (and trust-fund babies) of the world just as easily as I could reach exhaustion from treading water and sink to join the ranks of the masses. Realizing this, I stay put, stuck in my routine, which as I was told by my !!-wielding critic isn’t so bad.
And she was right to call me out. She shined a light on the relativism of life: not only of my life but also of all of us who think that “life is hard.” Because to be fair, if you’re reading this, you are doing so on a computer or cell phone, which in that action alone, sets you apart from those “unfortunate souls” who comprise the hidden portion of that iceberg.
See? Though it sounds fancy, it’s not.
Existential relativism = a private shit show, for once you position yourself on that continuum of the human experience, you can’t easily exempt yourself from knowing where you fall.
I’m sorry for making the point, and you’re welcome.