I’ll start by reassuring you: this is not going to be a love lesson. For those of you whose merry hearts were buttered up like scones on Valentine’s Day, you will protest passionately, rhapsodically how one cannot learn from love lessons, or read about love and expect to understand it, because love does not exist in words, lyrics, print, No! Love is transcendent, beggaring description! Love is…
And I’ll stop right there. Because I’d wager that for half of readers, the only spooning that took place on February 14th was an intimate bedroom act wherein 250g of Skippy’s peanut butter sat heavy in your heart stomach whilst fake sobbing through Forgetting Sarah Marshall. And as for the other half of you, even thinking about Valentine’s Day makes you feel as nauseous as though you too had just eaten 250g of smooth peanut butter.
No, the subject of love is not the point of me bringing this quote to your attention. It’s the calculating part I think we should be interested in. The Western world is modelled on economy. By that I mean we are constantly told to economise, prioritise, maximise, delegate, negotiate, streamline… to above all, make sure we get the best deal possible.
And that’s all well and good to a point – then you realise you’re living life as a scorekeeper; reluctant to put in a hard graft without the dollar signs or other tangible rewards gleaming in the blacks of our eyes, bitter over every petty inequality, begrudging the thought of being short-changed, over-ready to flag up who “owes us one” and “who’s turn it is this time”.
I realise this probably isn’t what you want to hear. Upon realising my “keen sense of justice” was a Cupidified way of saying “loathed to do anything I shouldn’t have to”, I too felt like returning to a state of binging on romcoms and peanut butter, alone in my room, where nobody could condemn me for being a bad person… or tell me to do anything it isn’t my job to do.
Of course, in an ideal world (an ideal probably in part influenced by watching too many movies), there would be no injustices, no inequalities, no short-straws. We would all just go about minding our own business, tending to our own responsibilities, keeping out of the way of others. Society would be built on the green and pleasant values of self-sufficiency and independence. But the reality is, the world we live in demands collaboration and community… and with it, a whole lot of generosity and magnanimity.
You can take great lengths to distribute the work among a group, initiate the most convenient and definitive of bin rotas, lay out the fairest of policies as to who gets to choose where to go out on a Friday, engage in the most devoted relationship of giving-up-everything-at-last-minute-to-be-a-good-friend and at the end of it, feel you get absolutely nothing in return. You’re lumped with topics no-one else was prepared to take on for the group presentation, by the time it’s your bin day you realise the person before you skipped their day so there’s two loads to take out, your flat rigs you into plans without prior consultation, and during your mid-week crisis your best friend is more committed to Timepiece Wednesday’s than providing a shoulder to cry on.
But in the face of these mounting student-life atrocities, one thing that won’t help is resentment. Increasingly I find myself warranting my “right to be bitter” because, according to my calculations, I have officially been “hard done by”. But when, on occasion, I catch myself thinking like that, and play at good old Pollyanna’s glad game where you turn a negative into something to be glad about – something to be grateful for – it’s amazing what a difference it makes to your outlook. So often, our mood is an illusion, and it is entirely malleable. By removing the element of calculation in our lives – resisting thinking about whether or not you deserve the cards you’ve been dealt – you strip life of its sources of dissatisfaction. It means that acts of generosity are in fact generous, not begrudged; that good deeds have an element of altruism, not a negotiating stronghold for future occasions. All in all, it makes you a happier person who can see the bright side of life: it enables you to fall in love with your life.
So perhaps the take-away from St. Therese of Lisieux, is not that when one loves, one does not calculate, but rather, that when one does not calculate, one loves. This reconfiguration, and the reversal of your way of thinking I’m advocating here, may be only a small syntactical rearrangement, but one that is utterly game changing. So as reluctant as you may be to give it a try (you’re still in that mode of thinking where you’re asking yourself “Why should I have to bother with all this?”), I would encourage you to at least think twice before calculating.