Exiguous: it’s how you see it that counts

I needed to look up the word exiguous.  It turns out to mean:

Very small in size or amount.

It perhaps describes how we can see our lives.  The word is used by Iris Murdoch not long after she’d written these words about us:

‘I assume that human beings are naturally selfish and that human life has no external point or telos.  That human beings are naturally selfish seems true on the evidence, whenever and wherever we look at them, in spite of very small number of apparent exceptions.’*

Darn the exceptions.  

Murdoch sees self-contained lives and wonders whether what we call good is just our little goods and we can disagree over these when we meet each other.  But what have others found that the many, in Murdoch’s mind, haven’t?

Frederick Buechner had opened my day with this thought:

‘Listen to your life.
See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.
In the boredom and pain of it
no less than in the excitement and gladness:
touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it
because in the last analysis all moments are key moments,
and life itself is grace.’**

I am grateful to so many who have opened my eyes to see more.  Some of these I have met: Erwin McManus, whose latest book The Last Arrow I’ve opened for the first time today, and his brother Alex.  Others I have not met: Seth Godin and Hugh Macleod have altered the trajectory of my life with a gracefulness.  I came upon these words in Godin’s latest blog:

‘If you have a safe place to sleep, reasonable health and food in the fridge, you’re probably living with surplus. You have enough breathing room to devote an hour to watching TV, or having an argument you don’t need to have, or simply messing around online. You have time and leverage and technology and trust.’^

It’s a different way of seeing the same stuff we had yesterday in new way today, we now become actors rather than being acted upon:

‘For many people, this surplus is bigger than any human on Earth could have imagined just a hundred years ago.

What will you spend it on?

If you’re not drowning, you’re a lifeguard.’^

Today’s doodle contains the words of Bernadette Jiwa^^ – someone Godin connected me with because he is always telling of the amazing work others are doing.  The scarcity is the gift is what we have received from – well, sometimes we’re not sure where – and we have to personalise it and pass it on.  Lewis Hyde comments on this gift:

‘A gift, when it moves across a boundary, either stops being a gift or abolishes the boundary.’*^

Which sounds to me like: our gift risks everything to be shared with another.

It’s so small, though; how can it count or matter?

It just so happened that Hugh Macleod shared these words about Godin on the same day as Godin was writing about our surplus:

‘The media loves to write stories about the big guys. The big CEOs running the big companies, with billions of dollars changing hands and thousands of employees doing their bidding.

And yet, here are people like our old friend Seth Godin, who has zero employees, and just runs his not-insignificant empire, mostly by himself from a wee loft, an hour North of Manhattan.’^*

In one sense, Godin is exiguous but what does that matter?  Macleod continues:

‘What does that tell us?

It tells us that size is irrelevant. That you can have an amazing career with or without scale.

It just depends on you. It just depends on the size of your heart; what matters to you and what’s worth doing.

People matter, love matters, size is unimportant.’^*

What if we knew this in our families?  What if they taught it in our schools?  What if businesses allowed space for it?  I find myself wondering whether people would appear less selfish because they have been encouraged and enabled to see themselves and others differently, the scarcity of their lives we need to have shared with us.

(*From Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good.)
(**Frederick Buechner, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(^From Seth Godin’s blog: What will you do with your surplus?)
Bernadette Jiwa’s Make Your Idea Matter.)
(*^From Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.)
(^*From gapingvoid’s blog What’s love got to do with it.)


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