Rumi: Things are such

Things are such, that someone lifting a cup,
Or watching the rain, petting a dog,
Or singing, just singing — could be doing as
Much for this universe as anyone.

– Rumi

Yes, that’s my sense of it as well.

VALUING PRODUCTIVITY

Does this poem have to do with value and productivity? It’s at least easy for us, in our Western culture, to see it that way.

There is nothing wrong with valuing productivity. We need some level of productivity to collectively and individually survive and thrive. (1) It makes sense that it’s part of our culture, and probably any culture. (2)

At the same time, if it goes too far it has downsides. In our Western culture, we have valued productivity to the extent that we often equate our worth with what we do in the world. We have lost sight of our value from just being who we are and being part of existence.

THE VALIDITY OF THE POEM

When I explore what Rumi points to, I find a few different things.

Doing simple things, or just being, does a lot for our universe. For the universe we each are. When I sit outside hearing the birds and looking at the trees and flowers, does as much for my universe as just about anything.

We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. So even the simplest of activities, or just the experience of rest, does as much for the universe as anything.

The idea of productivity or value is mind-made. It’s not inherent in reality. So anything does as much for the universe as anything else.

WHY IT’S APPEALING

So there is no wonder this poem, in this particular translation, is attractive to many in the modern world.

We are trained to (over-) value productivity and equate our worth with what we do. And that comes with downsides. It fuels over-work. It may lead us to ignore our deeper interests and passions. And if or when we are unable to be as productive as our culture tells us we should, our self-worth may take a hit.

So this poem is an antidote to that idea. It’s medicine for that particular condition.

NOTES

(1) And the right kind of productivity. The kind of productivity that puts food on the table, a roof over our heads, and so on.

(2) Although the form this value takes in different cultures probably varies enormously. It can take the form of degrading and devaluing those who are unable to be productive. And it can take the form of valuing everyone and each person’s unique contributions, even if they are not very active in a conventional sense.


OUTLINE / POINTS

  • Yes, the idea that being productive is better is created by the human mind, it’s not inherent in reality
    • Likely comes from our history, needed to be relatively productive to survive, bring up children 
    • The quote is appealing to many of us bc it’s an antidote to the glorification of doing and productivity, and equating our value to how productive we are, “we are what we do” mindset
  • Also, doing those things means as much for OUR universe, the universe we are, as anything 
  • And we are all the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe, and these things are as important as anything 
  • Also, if babies have value without doing anything, why not adults?
  • Rumi quote
    • upsides and downsides of the valuing of productivity
    • The quote is appealing bc it’s an antidote to our cultural valuing of productivity, and equating our worth with what we do in the world
    • how the quote is true

Any pointer is medicine for a certain condition, and this one is medicine for the glorification of productivity, for taking our value and worth from what we do in the world.

The idea that productivity is better, and that we gain value from it, is created by the human mind. It’s an idea. And it’s not difficult to see where it comes from. It makes historical and evolutionary sense. We collectively, and often individually, need to be productive to a certain extent to survive and have a good life. So this attitude has helped us. And it also comes with downsides.

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