Discover more from Civic Renaissance with Alexandra Hudson
Is leisure the secret of civilization?
Exploring Joseph Piper on leisure on the day of his birth, PLUS a chance to win $10,000, and give away on human flourishing!
This week, we’ll explore:
Leisure as the secret of human flourishing: Reflecting on Joseph Piper on his birthday
A giveaway of a new book on human flourishing, Learning the Good Life: Wisdom from the Great Hearts and Minds That Came Before
Modern life as anti-leisure
Last week, I moved into a one hundred year old historic home. Though I lived in historic house before this, our new property is a bit bigger.
It is also rather more of a project.
We are grateful for this space, and the opportunity we have to use it to bring to life and embody the ideals and ideas we love. We want it to illuminate our passion for the life of the mind and continued learning.
Though we purchased the home it, in some ways, I feel as if I’ve inherited it—both its privileges, and also its responsibilities.
Though we legally own the home, I don’t think anyone ever really possesses a home like this. I feel a sense of stewardship of this home. We are tasked with preserving it, being custodians of its history before passing it on to a new generation.
In some ways, restoring this historic home is representative of the mandate of Civic Renaissance: taking the beauty and what is best of the old and reviving it for the needs of the present.
Our new home also embodies the ideals of CR, too. Its architecture is Italian renaissance in style, and so embodies the ideals of civic revival and a belief in the ingenious potential of the human being—so central to the goals of this project.
Our vision is for our home to be a place of dialogue, friendship, community, and the collective pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty. We would like this place to be one of healing and hospitality during a divided and broken time.
Moving in, however, has been an incredibly stressful time. My mind has been completely consumed by tackling all of the projects necessary to ensure our home is safe and comfortable for our family—not to mention the “nice to have projects” that come with reviving a home that has been vacant for many years.
It seems like the moment one task is crossed off of the list, like the head of a hydra, multiple more issues arise.
I feel like I am attempting to drink from a firehose, running a sprint when I should be pacing myself for a marathon.
The good news is that I have an amazing team of renaissance men helping me with everything from mitigating the flooding that occurs in our basement when it rains, to restoring the doric columns that adorn the outside our home.
For instance, they have helped us ensure that we now have running, hot water throughout our house, and I also now have a working washing machine!
(It is amazing how much we take for granted—and only truly appreciate basic ameities when we don’t have them. I’m allowing this experience to cultivate within my gratitude for all that we do have.)
This is all an extended prelude to say that, as I’ve been focused on the many projects related to our move and new home and re-gaining the basic necessities of life, as I have been in relative survival mode, leisure has been the last thing on my mind.
I am exhausted.
I am depleted. I feel as if I’m barely keeping my head above water, and struggling to cope with each new challenge life throws my way.
This may be an experience that many readers can empathize with.
This is because, to some extent, all of modern life is frenetic, defined by such busy-ness as I described above. We’re forced into survival-mode, where we rush from one task to the next, and furiously check items off our endless to do lists.
How on earth can we find the time, energy, or will to just be still and think?
If we allow the pace of modern life to dictate how we spend our time and how we live our life, leisure can and will remain the last thing on our minds. This is a problem, because true leisure—unstructured time to think, reflect, read deeply, or even just sit in silence—is an essential part of being, and becoming, human.
Leisure, the basis of culture
Jospef Pieper—who was born May 4, 1907, 115 years ago today—was a true believer in the power of leisure.
Like Jacques Maritain, who work we explored last week, Pieper was a Thomist, Catholic philosopher who sought to provide an intellectual response to the horrors of totalitarianism and genocide that defined World War II and hung over the post-war era.
For Pieper, leisure was essential to rebuilding civilization after most dehumanizing and barbaric period of human history.
One of Pieper’s most famous works, and one of the most important philosophical world of the 20th center, is entitled Leisure, the Basis of Culture.
This work was which was translated from Germany to English in 1952 by T.S. Eliot, and argues that leisure isn’t just a luxury that we can enjoy after we get our work done.
It is an essential part of being human.
Leisure, unlike luxury, is not stuff. It is a state of mind, a disposition, an approach to the world that enriches our humanity and our capacity to appreciate the humanity and the world around us.
Pieper argues that leisure has been the basis of any civilization of human history. It is where the sacred and great works of art are fostered.
It is in leisure time that we realize the fullness of our personhood, unlock our potential, and flourish.
Our world, however, instrumentalizing everything, including our very humanity.
Our culture of “total labor”—where our work is all consuming of our humanity, including our mind, body and spirit—depletes us. It robs us of our will for leisure, causes us to forget how direly we need it to rejuvenate our souls.
Our world today keeps us at the level of feeding our bodies. We need leisure to feed our hearts, souls and minds. We need leisure to be fully human.
As we lose leisure, we we lose our very humanity.
Dr. Sherry Turkel of MIT and the greatest thinker about the philosophy and technology and community today, would agree with Pieper.
In her many books, Turkel is concerned that technology keeps us so busy, engaged and distracted. It prevents us from being alone, in sitting in solitude, and in understanding who we are. This is a problem, because we have to know who we are in order to have quality, authentic relationship with others.
Because we don’t have solitude, because we don’t know who we are, our relationship with others are impoverished.
Blaise Pascal agreed, writing that all men’s problems stem from his inability to sit alone in a room.
In his Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith tells the story of a fisherman who lived a quiet, simple life by the sea.
One day, he was asked, if given the chance, what he would do next with his life.
“I’d buy a bigger boat, so I could fish more fish and make more money,” he replied.
And then what?, asked his interlocutor.
“I’d buy more boats and build a fishing empire,” the fisherman said.
And then what?, interlocutor inquired.
“I’d settle down and live a quiet life by the sea,” he said.
What is to prevent you from doing just that right now?
The fisherman’s wise friend offers us an important insight. We cannot wait for the “right” time to incorporate habits of leisure into our lives.
There will never be a perfect time. We will always be busy, and we will always be able to find excuses to operate at survival level and not energize our interior lives.
It’s up to us to make time for the things that give us life, that restore our soul, that nourish our minds. We desperately need this in a world and pace of life that depletes us.
Last night, for instance, I decided to take my own advice and try to rejuvenate my weakened soul by using my leisure time in a restorative way.
I took up an antique, 1890 edition of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, a story I was raised on, for solace. It was my grandmother’s favorite book—and one of the few that was easily accessible and not hidden away in boxes.
It was a comfort to return to a story of my childhood, and it offered me a much-needed reprieve from the day to day grind.
In short, I’m glad I chose to make time for leisure in my life despite the many pressures of my life right now.
I hope you do, too.
Some questions for you to consider:
Are you persuaded by Pieper’s argument? Do you think leisure is essential to civilization and culture? Why or why not?
What are the barriers to leisure in your life?
What are some ways that you can incorporate habits of leisure, stillness and reflection despite the pressures and face-paced nature of our harried, modern world?
I’d love to hear rom you. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Join us TODAY and learn how you can win $10,000!
Join us TODAY at 2pm ET to discuss AJ Jacob’s new book, The Puzzler—and discover how YOU can win the $10,000 prize offered in AJ’s work.
Below are some of the highlights of AJ’s book that he shared with me. Come ready with questions for him! This event is exclusive for CR subscribers, and a chance to engage with AJ first hand!
WHAT’S IN THE BOOK
-Memoir – My lifelong love of puzzles, and how I see the world as a puzzle, and why I wrote the book.
-Adventures – My puzzling travels around the world, including representing the USA in the World Jigsaw Puzzle championship, going to the CIA headquarters to investigate one of the great unsolved puzzles of the world, playing Garry Kasparov at chess, and much more.
-Why we love puzzles, and their benefits – the science of how puzzles make us better thinkers and people. And how we need the Puzzle Mindset to solve the world’s big problems. Get curious, not furious!
--History – How puzzles play a part in every culture and every time period. Plus the crossword that helped us beat the Nazis. And how Covid led to a puzzle renaissance.
-Puzzles old and new. The book has hundreds of historical puzzles (e.g. the first crossword ever) as well as 20 original puzzles by master puzzlemaker Greg Pliska.
-Contest! There’s a hidden contest, and the first one to solve it wins $10,000.
-The Puzzle Mindset. I think we all need to be less furious and more curious – both in our personal lives and in solving world problems. Think like an engineer, not a lawyer.
--Puzzles make us better thinkers. More creative, more out of the box, more, even more compassionate.
-Puzzles can unite humanity! I saw it happen. Plus there is research on it from actual social scientists.
-The dangers of pattern-finding. Apophenia, as you may know, is when people see patterns in noise, like Jesus’s face on French Toast. Pattern-finding is crucial (it’s what science is) but it’s also dangerous (see Q Anon). How do we balance?
-I learned tons of strategies for solving problems (work backwards from goal, embrace failure, turn upside down, etc.)
-The importance of play to our brains and happiness, plus puzzles as meditation.
-The joys of suffering
-Learning to live with unsolved puzzles and tolerating/enjoying the uncertainty.
-Competing in the World Jigsaw Puzzle Championships in Spain (and coming in second to last)
-Visiting the headquarters of the CIA in Langley to see one of the great unsolved puzzles of the world.
-Going to Japan to see where the cult of the Japanese Puzzle Boxes was born.
-Competing in the Iron Man Triathlon for Nerds, which is the 72-hour MIT Mystery Hunt.
-Being featured as the answer to 1-Down in the NYT crossword puzzle.
-Creating the hardest puzzle ever (it will outlive the universe!) with a Dutch puzzle designer. It’s called Jacobs Ladder
-Going to Vermont to get lost in the hardest corn maze in the world.
-Talking to the expert on dirty medieval riddles written by monks
-Learning chess puzzles from Garry Kasparov
-Tackling a logic puzzle that literally drives people insane and has spawned 100 philosophy papers
RECEPTION SO FAR
The prepublication reviews have been lovely:
NYT: "A romp, both fun and funny."
Booklist: “Ridiculously entertaining.”
Publishers Weekly: “riveting…fascinating…a rallying cry for word nerds everywhere, this book is a delight”)
And from Kirkus : A monkey’s barrel of fun.”
A giveaway of “Learning the Good Life: Wisdom from the Great Hearts and Minds That Came Before,” a new book on human flourishing
This compilation of wisdom literature across time and place, put together by my friend, Jessica H. Wilson, is an ennobling read.
Here is what I said about it in my endorsement of the book:
Learning the Good Life is a magnificent compilation of the timeless principles of human flourishing. Strolling through it, the reader cannot help but appreciate how often wise thinkers have independently come to similar ideas about living well. Across time and place, certain principles--such as detachment from earthly things, being honest, kind, and virtuous for its own sake, and leading a life aligned with one's internal principles--have stood the test of time, earning endorsements from teachers interested in helping us pursue good living together. This work pulls together works from different thinkers and traditions that might at first seem desperate--from Confucius to Plato to Fredrick Douglass--but the texts and the introduction helps the reader see how they contribute to a harmonious whole.
Each text and author in this book contribute to The Great Conversation, the iterative dialogue on questions of origin, purpose and destiny that thoughtful people have been engaging in across human history. This anthology is essential reading for the Christian student of any age; it serves as a powerful reminder that all truth is God's truth, and that people of all backgrounds can, and have, come to appreciate His wisdom, even independent of His revelation.
I’m giving away FIVE copies. If you’d like to enter to win, write to me at email@example.com
Thank you for being here!