23. Essay: On Difficulty

To do difficult things is to do things that are against one’s nature. This does not mean that the things that are according to our nature are easy, they can be hard and are often so, but it means that they are not difficult. In matters of live and death difficulty does not enter either, either we do it or we die. If there is no choice then it is not difficult. We can make a further distinction between willing and unwilling acts; difficulty only follows those things undertaken willingly.

Giving birth can be hard but it is not difficult because it follows our nature and there is no choice. Giving up our phone’s is difficult because it is against our nature, but we can agree that having a phone has nothing to do with our nature so we should state it as not difficult, but then we would know that this is the wrong distinction to make. This we call a habitual nature so we need to distinguish two types nature, one habitual and one natural. The phone is of habitual nature, the phone as indispensable in our lives under the trick of convenience. Giving up our own phone is a willing act while giving birth is an unwilling one, there is no choice in giving birth as our nature propels us to do so. The only alternative is death.

Changing one’s habits is difficult, such as quitting smoking or trying to reduce social media time and other habits we might call vices. These involve willing acts that have become habitual nature becoming more like unwilling acts, which we call addiction. Which habits are vices and which are virtues is a matter for another time but we can for now divide them into those that add onto something, and those that take from, or pile onto something. Smoking takes from health, and piles onto toxins in the body. Excessive use of social media takes from concentration and well-being and piles onto stress. Practicing piano builds towards the arts (let us be satisfied with the arts as undefined for now) as does writing, and painting. Sports builds towards health, and reading towards empathy and understanding, and so on. Building something can be hard however which is why cultivating habits that lead to virtues is difficult and also why we praise those who are able to do so. A disciplined life is difficult because it involves choice and willing acts. A life of vice is easy as it involves following our instincts and unwilling acts.

Is difficulty what is rare to do or what we find rare to do? If everything was difficult, we would not call it so, meaning that it is an exceptional condition. But what is difficult for some might be easy for others. Once again, we can distinguish between what our community sees as difficult and we ourselves see as difficult. Children are amazed at magic tricks that turned out to be easy is how our community sees the things they have no knowledge about, making the simple appear as difficult. Difficulty is a transient state that can be reduced or done away with altogether with practice, such as playing a difficult music piece, or speaking a non-native language. And what is difficult is different for everyone as each has their own natural nature that inclines towards certain activities. This does not mean that difficult things become easy with practice. Lifting a certain weight, or playing a difficult music piece can and will remain difficult but our capability rises to meet this difficulty through practice.  Those who follow their nature and have it in abundance we might call prodigies or geniuses and we can often find these in the arts, especially in music.

But what about choices then? We can speak of choices as being willing acts. If a student has to decide between learning the piano or the violin. Or between leaving or going, or any moral dilemma such as the trolley problem. These are all difficult choices and the only practice we can draw on is life itself. But here once more following one’s nature is the best mode of action. While the result of this decision might negatively affect others, we would satisfy our own soul. And, if our nature is one that cares about others, the decision that will come naturally to us will be one that affects others the least.

Jobs and schools are against our nature but they can become a habitual one. Nevertheless, for many they are still a willing act. While working is necessary for food and shelter the modern world presents the choice, or the illusion of choice of the free worker who can commit to any type of job given time and training. This ignores the nature of a person which is why many are miserable in their calling and look in envy at those who, from a young age perform a certain profession, or ‘follow their passion’ as some call it. Those who follow their passion follow what is natural to them. They follow their nature and do not experience difficulty in the sense of doing things that are against their nature as we defined earlier. Work can, for most, become a habitual nature which provides some comfort. But considering nature as a habit many fail the test of division between vices and virtues. What do most jobs add except for becoming better at the job in question? And if this job is already a difficulty, in that it is a willing act for the sake of food and shelter under choice then becoming better at this kind of job piling unto that which is against our nature. A nature which as we discussed is habitual and these will always be inferior to the natural one. But obviously many do not have a choice since the alternative is death which would mean that it is a hard choice and not a difficult one. On jobs and its relation to difficulty and hardship more can be said but not here.

               To sum up: Difficulty is to do something against our nature (natural or habitual) that involves an element of choice, a willing act. Since it needs choice difficulty does not enter into things where only one thing can be done, this is hardship, but since the idea of choice, or the illusion of choice is prevalent in our modern society many things that were before only associated with hardship (which can be endured) they now appear as difficult as well, confronting us with choices, but this is all we will say about this for now.   

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