The Hunger of Our Time

“To achieve anything, you need a burning desire.”
-Napoleon Hill

I read the book Think and Grow Rich about 2 years ago. It was about the time that I began writing the kind of stuff you’re reading right now. In it, one of the founders of the modern self-help and positive psychology movement, Napoleon Hill, talks about the passion and desire that are necessary in order to succeed.

Since then, I have read countless pieces and seen countless talks by people wax poetic about hustle, tenacity, and hunger. They pine for people with passion, gusto, balls, and passion. They talk about how much of that is the very seedbed of success.

I hear all that, and I wonder. I question. I am skeptical.

The word Taṇhā is the Pali word that means “hunger”, “desire”, or “longing”. For buddhists, Taṇhā is at the root of the most pervasive and paralyzing problem of humanity: suffering. We suffer because we have desires, hungers — we lust after things, feelings, and people. And we don’t get them. And as a result, we suffer.

I find myself hungering for an awful lot of things — from big to small. I want another piece of pizza, I want a better title at my job. I want more subscribers to my newsletter, more recommends on Medium, a bigger house, and so on, and so forth.

If there is a such thing as a collective consciousness — a zeitgeist — and if it indeed changes throughout time, I wonder how the collective consciousness of our age compares to previous ones.

I suspect that there is much more desire inherent in our time. Because of that, I suspect that there is more suffering lurking in our collective consciousness as well. If it hasn’t already manifested itself, it will.

I worry about this for myself, and I worry about it for others. I especially worry about it for my children. My daughter is almost 3. My son will be born in 2 months. What expectations will be embedded into them — without their consent — as they come of age? What pressure will be built into their spirits? What will keep them from being happy with what they have? What will they be told is not good enough, to force them to keep on hungering, keep on desiring?

I am not against wanting to do something with one’s life. Everyone has it within them to find their own purpose — to set goals and work toward them. But everyone also exists in an environment flooded with the desires and expectations of others.

When the noise of others’ desires drowns out the noise of your own spirit, the purpose and meaning you assign to your life ceases to become your own. When that happens, it becomes nearly impossible to enjoy your journey. Your focus comes not from within, but from without. You rely on the fire of others for warmth, rather than building your own. It becomes exhausting.

The hunger of our time is not our own, but that of others. No matter how much we feed others’ hunger, we will never feel satiated ourselves.

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