While my internship is officially devoted to the comparison of French agricultural practices to those in America, one of the best parts of the project that I have discovered are the enlightening conversations (on all subjects) I get to have with my hosts. Earlier this week, one of these groundbreaking, value-shaking exchanges occurred and really made me think.
Though our usual morning routine at the Moulin Ruel includes a leisurely breakfast and a wood run, one day this week we found ourselves rushed out the door by seven forty-five because we had a rendez-vous with a neighbor at eight. The elderly gentleman, named Guy, is another retired business man that has devoted his leisure time to the husbandry of work horses. New to the work, he inquired if we could give him a hand attaching an untrained pair of horses to a buggy so that they could be taught to work together. We spent two hours rigging the carriage, teaching the horses voice calls, and finally, enjoying a midmorning coffee break.
Upon our return to the Moulin Ruel, however, Martin and I wanted to make up for lost time and began working quickly on the walls of the goat house. The others, encouraged by our efforts, started building at a breakneck pace until Alain, in complete frustration, called a halt. Exclaiming “All WWOOFers work too fast,” he took the time to step backwards, see the mistakes we had made, and correct them at a reasonable pace.
As the work went on, his critique of our pace evolved into a conversation about the advantages and disadvantages of working quickly (or as I think, “efficiently”). Alain concluded that working quickly keeps us from enjoying the process of building, and then applied to the statement to general society arguing that most individuals in modern society work only towards an end, be it money, material success, the pursuit of financial security, etc. Though they believe they are on their way to happiness or security, the actual quality of their work and of their lives is often shoddy because they are living for the completion of a project or ideal.
Though his ideas critique a lifestyle that I often pursue, I find that Alain’s conclusion often justly applies to American beliefs. Yes, I am like most other college students who dread essays and enjoy the feeling of having finished instead of the joy of researching and writing. Simultaneously, I am beginning to see that taking the time to enjoy building a wall (or writing an essay) can be a lot more satisfying.
On a larger, societal scale, many Americans live the same hasty, goal-driven life. A myriad of examples exist: families that push their children to get into Ivey League colleges because they lead to “sucessful lives”; working parents that pay others to watch their children; the pursuit of “financial security” that quickly becomes the quest for a bigger bank account; and people who plan busy vacations because they cannot actually relax. The common theme that runs through them all is we often go, go, go to reach a goal without thinking about why we want to get there. In French, the expression is “Métro, Boulot, DoDo” or “Subway, Work, Sleep” and is meant to criticize the daily grind lifestyle wherein people work to “live” but end up living for their work.
At the same time, the critique is not necessarily fair because many of us have fiscal responsibilities that require us to work. Someone has to pay the staggering sum required to attend a liberal arts college, the grocer for the food on the table, and the mechanic who fixes the family car. The simple truth is that most people need a bit of money to participate in society.
With these contradicting ideas swirling around in my head, I returned to the subject later on in the afternoon with Christine and Alain over a cup of tea. Admitting that I was frustrated by the seemingly impossible equilibrium between enjoying one’s life and making enough money to do so, Christine and Alain concluded that there is no one true way to find the balance. Their lifestyle works for them but is not necessarily plausible for an American in need of health insurance and money for a child’s education. They concluded, however, that one way to avoid the “Métro, Boulot, DoDo” cycle is to constantly questioning the motives behind decisions. By taking steps backwards to wonder why one absolutely must make six figures or why a seven bedroom house is non-negotiable, we can either better appreciate why we are doing things or see the folly in those pursuits. Instead of making decisions and/or consuming a lot because it is what people normally do, we might find that we do what we actually enjoy if we are not caught up in the pursuit of financial success.
Considering that a lot of us get caught up in the daily grind of the work week, I believe we can all take a lesson from Alain’s frustration about our construction hastiness. Whether we are working a job, cooking a meal, or driving a kid to soccer practice, we can all benefit from taking a moment of respite to really consider why we are doing what we are doing. Maybe we will find out like I did that we are just working towards an end, ready to put a big check in the box.