Rivers and Oceans

The river as a metaphor in terms of passive and active participation in the past, present, and future keeps re-appearing, this time in the context of a discussion heard on a BBC Radio 4 – Start the Week podcast (10 March 2014).

The thrust of the discussant seems to be the need to move away from an idea of history and the future as a river, i.e. with a given course, flowing along, with rapids that need to be navigated, falls that need to be dealt with, and more towards the future as an ocean, with possibilities and opportunities in every direction. The key is to move away from a passive participation, allowing onself to be carried along, and towards active interest and learning.


It has been some time now since I listened to the following BBC Radio 4 – Analysis podcast including an interview with Eldar Shafir on his new book entitled Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.

The podcast itself was styled as an interview in front of a live audience and as such a little different to the usual format, but what I have found in the weeks since listening to the dialogue is that the topic keeps cropping up over and over again in a variety of different contexts during the course of otherwise normal days. It’s not so much what I think Prof. Shafir is getting at, that is, that people who have to cope with scarce resources and means are bad at making good financial decisions not because they’re not smart or able to think through things, but because scarcity leads to a kind of tunnel vision that makes one lose sense of the bigger picture. I’m lucky enough not to have to worry too much about money, but then there are other things in my life that are becoming scarcer and that on occasion can lead to what I assume is a similar over-focus and lack of perspective.

Perhaps it has something to do with my current phase in life, my growing family, and the constraints and interests of various time-consuming and intensive activities that populate my day. Perhaps it is also a question of having reached certain limits (of time, for example), while having transcended others (basic financial ones). In short, however, the main thrust of the argument (scarcity matters for all aspects of life, especially when it comes to making decisions) seems to be a profound one that I am returning to time and time again. Scarcity of money, of time, of personal energy: all these are particularly relevant, especially when it comes to work-life balance: I keep coming back to the thought that if you invest an hour at midnight into work, it’ll be an hour you’re missing somewhere else.

A sobering thought (one of many), but well worth thinking about if it lastly means achieving a more productive prioritisation of the things that are important.