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Are we mercenaries?

A mercenary is traditionally defined as a soldier for hire–someone who fights on behalf of who’s paying them, but has no true allegiance to the cause other than that. Throughout history they were generally despised–not only because they tended to be vile people, but moreover, because their very profession spoke to a lack of moral agency, of a mindless hedonism without regard for principle or belief in anything other than pleasure.

The funny thing is that capitalism makes mercenaries of us all; at least to a certain extent.

Think about it: many of us work a job we do for the money but don’t really care about, and when it’s over, we go home to entertain ourselves with television, sports, movies, food, and/or booze. We also tend not to know our neighbors, belong to an organization or group—be it professional, social, political, or other—volunteer, or do much of anything in our local communities other than maybe going for the occasional walk.

And if both aren’t true for everyone, my guess is that for a vast majority of Americans, at least one is–for example I work as a teacher and therefore can say I find a higher and more fulfilling purpose in my job than just making money, but I don’t know my neighbors or belong to a group or volunteer or any of that.

So there it is: we work for money, we’re disconnected from our communities, and whether we want to admit it or not, much of our life is spent seeking hedonistic pleasures.

And I get it: people are busy. Some of us have kids. Video games and Netflix are awesome. But we underestimate how alienating this behavior is—to go from home to work to home and rarely anywhere else except the grocery store or gym, five days a week, 48-ish weeks a year.

That’s the bubble everyone talks about whether they realize it or not.

It’s not that we see the same people most of the time, whether it be at work, home, or on social media—or it is—but I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not the fault of social media or the newsmedia. To some degree it’s not even our own fault. This is how our society is engineered. I mean, how many of us have a commute that’s at least 20 minutes? A lot. And why is that? Because when it comes to buying a house or renting an apartment, the primary factor in the decision is price—if you don’t believe me, you’re lucky to make a pretty damn good living—luckier than the 50% of Americans who can’t come up with $400 in case of an emergency (I’m not saying you don’t personally work hard or deserve your salary, just that there are huge numbers of your fellow Americans who work their asses off and can barely survive—I’m one of them).

Anyway, I’m getting off on an economic/political argument and that’s not the point. The point is similar to my Monday and Wednesday blogs this week: get out there. Don’t be a mercenary. Engage in your communities—in real time, face to face with other people.

In one sense, I’m lucky, because to write I have to get out of my apartment. I don’t know why that is, but it is, and I’m not going to fight it. The cool thing is that I tend to either go to the same bars or coffee shops to write, and I end up meeting some amazing people—some of whom have read my book, offered me writing advice, and even a few who’ve become friends.

Today’s Nugget

That’s really all it takes: get out of the house. Be around other people–but more than that, start conversations with the person on the bar stool next to you, or in line while you’re waiting for your coffee.

If that seems odd or difficult, then be more official: volunteer or join an organization–it doesn’t have to be a lot of work or some world changing endeavor. Hell, maybe it’s just a softball team or a book club.

But even those small, once a week outings in which we interact with people we don’t see at work, home, or on social media opens up so many possibilities–and if my experience speaks to anything, it makes for a happier existence as well.

Thanks for reading. Cheers!


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