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The folly of desire

Protzmann is a first-year philosophy major and can be contacted at kevin.protzmann@drake.edu

I was having dinner at Hubbell South with a few friends the other night. It was getting late and the cafeteria was thinning out to the point where the end of our conversation was in a completely empty room. It was in the quiet and solitude that our talk turned to matters that normally would not come up over dinner, things that some might have found to be too personal to speak of. However, we were well fed, relaxed and comfortable enough with each other that we could venture into culturally taboo subjects without feeling awkward. Of the things we discussed, the one that centered our discussion started when one of my companions made the remark that every single person sitting at the table either had parents that were divorced, separated or would soon be divorced.

Each of us had our story to tell as to why our families were structured so. One that we spoke of was the matter of infidelity. The question we had to ask was “How can someone married for so long cheat on his or her spouse?” While we certainly did not profess expertise on this matter, the consensus was that the only way for such a bond to be broken would be for some form of desire to overpower the individual to the point of breakage.

This line of conjecture led to thoughts about the very nature of desire in our society beyond the realm of marriage. It is quite apparent that our wants seem to motivate much, if not all, of our actions. The problem, as evidenced by the example of infidelity, is that many times our wants and desires can become destructive. The question we must ask ourselves is, at what point is enough truly enough? Is there ever a point in some aspect of our lives that we can claim satisfaction?

In the daily affairs we concern ourselves with, we are always reinforced by the shared cultural values and philosophies that dictate the structure of the social world around us. One value that many Americans will proudly claim is that of pure desire and the will to achieve everything one wants. The paradox with this method of thinking is that wants are infinite. If the value that we believe is that it is right to pursue all of our wants, we will never achieve such a feat. By virtue of the fact that desires are naturally never ending, pursuing them in their entirety will simply never work. We will either end up harming ourselves, such as the individual who desires much but succeeds little; or we will end up harming others, such as the example of the unfaithful spouse.

The solution is to not let yourself be encumbered by such methods of thought. We must discipline ourselves against too much desire and reflect on the things we already have rather than the things that we want. I do not wish to overuse the cliché of giving thanks, but the truth of the matter is that simply being grateful for what one already has can do wonders for tempering wrong and hurtful desire. If we realize that what we already hold is enough to bring us joy and pursuing more will bring little more benefit, we will save ourselves and those around us from a great deal of needless suffering under the toils of excessive want.

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