Let’s take ‘Carpe Diem’ Back

We all know the expression, and we hear it often. But while we all think we know what it means, we do not. At least not completely. The reality is that a straight literal translation is fine, but the way the world works now a days is taking things out of context and only understanding what we want to hear. And that’s a bigger issue for another day. Today, today we seize the day, carpe diem.

Sorry for the brief history lesson but we need to remember what carpe diem is and where it comes from. The phrase comes in Book 1 of Odes the work by Roman poet Horace in about 23 BC. He uses it in a different context than we believe today, though. The whole phrase can be loosely translated to “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow (the future)”. Once we hear that we take it to mean what we want. The younger we are, the closer we hold on to the seizing part and more importantly the today part.

And the problem is that we have taken this thing too close to the words, too literally and too incorrectly. People equate carpe diem to “yolo” or similar trends where we are supposed to do everything today and not care about the future. The idea is to go out, party, play, have fun, eat whatever, try anything and everything, and otherwise do whatever you want. Throw caution to the wind, disregard the consequences and go all out.

Except that’s not the spirit of carpe diem and that’s not its intention. All those things that we do today have repercussions tomorrow and the consequences we disregarded are all real. The problem is as a society we have a short attention span and we have no long-term planning. Twisting carpe diem into something it’s not is easy because we already do it, and crave the approval that something like this gives. We don’t want to think about how what we do can have an impact on our body, how what we eat can make us ill or unhealthy or fat, how what money we waste can lead to financial trouble, how the actions we take can hurt or destroy other lives and even our own.

Planning for the future, being responsible, saving money and being healthy are all things that we usually do not find interesting or fun enough. But it’s exactly what carpe diem is all about. You know that translation of the phrase “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow”? Well it’s about making a better future for ourselves. The context of the ode mentions that the future is uncertain and we don’t know what can happen and therefore should leave as little to chance as possible. Meaning we should do today all that we can to make our future better.

Now this is not an all glum and boring, rain on your parade type of commentary. Horace does push us to enjoy our youth and our lives before it’s too late. So I guess we need a little more balance than just enjoying and just preparing a future. But in the end, that is exactly the idea I want to convey. We need more balance in our lives, we need to live fully, but we also need to be mindful of our future. Our lives are more than just one day and they are more than just our own. More than ever we need to plan for what’s ahead, we need to know where we want to go and how to get there, and most of all, we need to better understand the world around us.