It is said there are few certainties in life other than death and taxes: in this context carpe diem, seize the day, or pluck the day, is an appropriate antidote. But how do we do that? A biblical charge of similar nature is ‘choose life’. As we shall see, ‘seizing the day’ is seldom about the immediate, but about grasping an opportunity which makes even greater things possible. We are beginning the season of Lent which I want to argue sits appropriately apropos this, ‘plucking of the day’.
I am not sure that I agree with the whole ode in which carpe diem is historically set. “Seize the present, trust tomorrow e’en as little as you may” (carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero) is suggestive of “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”.
The facts of the matter are that it is in seizing or ‘plucking’ the day that tomorrow and its possibilities become possible. Western hedonistic culture served by a populist politic appears to have morphed into a desire to maximise the present regardless of its impact on the tomorrows that will follow.
No one would knowingly act to diminish tomorrow. There is a pressing need for Australians to hear truth from the political class about the implications that flow from today’s choices and their impact upon tomorrow. Is that likely to happen? Not unless we move away from reliance on ten second grabs used to tell people what it is thought they want to hear. The nation needs a reflective rhythm, achievable only through bipartisan commitment, in which major propositions are put to the people with explanation as to the implications that flow from choosing or not choosing a certain direction.
The Church enjoys a season of reflection (Lent), of discipline, of clearing the decks, in the lead up to Easter in order that life (resurrection life) might be celebrated in all its fullness in all the tomorrows that follow. Resurrection belief is commitment to the notion that love conquers, forgiveness restores, sacrifice makes the impossible possible, that what is broken can be made whole once more. Lent, like Ramadan, is a commitment to a fuller life, if only a little space can be forged through the clutter and immediate demands of life.
I was recently deeply saddened to hear of the sudden and untimely death of Michael Gordon, the gentle, profoundly respected, and effective journalist of the Melbourne Age. Some years ago Margaret and I spent a fortnight in his company in a tour sponsored by the Hizmet movement in Turkey. Following his death there have been extraordinary pieces written about him, most notably that his motto could easily have been carpe diem, in that every day of his life he never lost an opportunity to serve the common good. As far as I know Michael was not a specifically religious person, but that he had a spiritually reflective side is clear. His plucking the day allowed for the possibility of tomorrow for many through the causes he championed.
What might happen if the nation developed a more reflective character?
We could ‘pluck the day’ in relation to environmental responsibility and climate change. We have the technology at our disposal. We know what needs to be done. In doing so we do not face a decline in our standard of living. We need to give up (Lent) our dependence on fossil fuels in order that tomorrow might be embraced in all its fulness. We are deciding not to because we have been convinced (wrongly) that now is not the moment, it will cost too much, climate change is not the problem it is being made out to be, and those who benefit from the status quo, mining interests, ply the political elite with funds that they find impossible to refuse.
We could ‘pluck the day’ in relation to ‘closing the gap’ with our indigenous brothers and sisters. We have apologised to the ‘stolen generation’, those taken from their birth families on the presumption that in doing so they would be ‘better off’. But we still have a lingering notion that if the gap is to be closed it will be closed because the indigenous community embraces the value set of the white community. We need to give up (Lent) this notion. ‘Indigenous Voice’ the proposal presented to the nation from the Uluru gathering is in all our interests, not simply the interest of the indigenous community. We all need to hear this voice. To reject the proposition on the basis that it would be an unworkable ‘third house’, without creatively turning the notion into an implementable proposition, is to choose to prolong the gap.
Barnaby Joyce could ‘pluck the day’ by resigning or offering to resign. Holding on to advantage and privilege in public office, which is a gift rather than a right, is to undermine the position held. Those in positions of power must always be prepared to give up (Lent) and return it to the people if there is doubt about their moral authority to discharge its duties. The people may well say, ‘we want you to continue’, great, but to hold on to a position of power out of self-interest or sense of self importance is to diminish both self and the office. Some respect might begin to return to political life generally, if it is clear that those who hold office understand it is not theirs but belongs to the people whom the office serves. To resign or offer to resign and then be asked to continue would return credibility and trust.
The nation could ‘pluck the day’ if the principle of supply and demand was not used by government as an immutable law. It is not. The economic world is far more complicated. Taxation is a major and very complicated form of intervention. Wages will not automatically rise and jobs multiply if a company makes more money. Indeed a reason why a company might make more money could be because there are fewer jobs and greater automation. Another reason could be that a listed company is far more beholden to its shareholders than it is to its employees. Trickle-down economics has proven to be a fallacy as more and more wealth is held by a shrinking minority who have the capacity to make profit through other’s losses.
As Christian influence continues to diminish, reflective rhythms that brought life and health to individuals also diminishes and with it the health of the nation as a whole.
Lent is about increasing capacity to ‘choose life’ or ‘seize the day’. This capacity increases in direct proportion to an appetite for letting go. All of us exhibit habits that can or should be changed if greater life is to be embraced. As a nation we are drawn towards immediate gratification regardless of its impact on tomorrow.
The 50+ percent of the Australian population that still claims to be Christian could serve the nation well by entering into the Lenten season with reflective intent, that the day might be seized and tomorrow’s legacy enhanced.