Friction is the force that resists an object’s movement across a surface. In practical terms, it slows down an object’s movement. Though it sounds like something we don’t want, without friction we don’t have traction; without friction we cannot move forward. And if we avoid friction in one place, we will unwittingly be moving into it somewhere else. If we feel no friction, we believe we are going with the flow. In truth, we cannot move.
So much of what goes on in America now is about avoiding friction. Whether it’s a refusal to compromise or a desire to live a life of uninterrupted pleasure, our goal has become to no longer work. Ironically, we even work ourselves into the ground in order to reach our life goal of leisure. But by avoiding the effort to overcome friction, we are creating a society dedicated to dullness. Dullness then runs the country.
We spend much of our time pointing to the intense friction in other countries, but fail to see the tension that is forming here. No matter how slowly life appears to move, there is always change; we cannot and will not stay inert forever. The three gunas, or properties making up the world, are tamas (inertia), rajas (activity), and sattva (clarity, calm). Whether we are aware or not, we are always heading toward a balance of these properties. We want the three gunas to be in harmony. So if we are inert, then unconsciously we will want someone to be active in our midst. If we are lucky enough to have someone sattvic near us, depending on where we are we will be drawn into sattva or we will rebel.
By sattvic I mean really clear, bright, and peaceful—not as an idea, but as an actual state. Part of what is going on in this country is that, however much we may complain or express concern about collective issues, we pretend that as individuals we are all fine. We decide intellectually that we’re “fine”, and we make sure our lives look “fine”. Most of us are anything but fine, and if we let ourselves feel, we would know that.
American society was largely built on a strong work ethic. When we work hard, we improve ourselves by overcoming friction; we may even reach a level of prosperity. From there we retire, believing we have earned the right not to work. Thinking we want what is best for our children, we encourage our children to work less hard than we did, and try to spare them from stress. We want our children to be frictionlessly happy—but that’s an oxymoron. Instead, we produce laziness. From laziness we get to incompetence. From incompetence we slide into decadence. The prosperity will be used up by our seeking only pleasure and not doing conscious, meaningful work.
Work actually makes us feel better. A life of leisure is not healthy, and we must shed the belief that it is. The pursuit of happiness does not mean we get happiness without friction. Pursuit means we can or may go after happiness, and how we do that is work. If we think pleasure is happiness, then we are really just greedy gluttons. The expectation of happiness without any effort has become the perverted American dream. We have lost sight of the difference between having a right to pursue something and being entitled to it. We have little work ethic in the right sense, and even less stamina.
America distracts itself from its real work, which is cleaning itself up. America spends much of its time “fixing” others instead of actually fixing and taking care of itself. And because we do not really fix ourselves, we cannot and do not discern appropriately how to fix anything. This does not mean we should be isolationist; what it means is that any work we undertake abroad has be rooted in hard work done at home.
Our children are being brought up without healthy friction. “I want” and “give it to me” are the phrases of an indulged child, not one who is developing character and a well-directed will. Indulging these phrases brings the child to not learn how to develop effort. Even our schools are now complicit; in order to appease parents and conform to current psychological models that still hinge on “self-esteem”, they aim to make education as frictionless as possible. And frictionless education is another oxymoron.
Children need to learn how to overcome friction. My job as a mother was not to protect my children from bullies, adversaries, challenges, and friction; my job was to give my children the tools to face and overcome the friction of life. I helped my children see that they had choice—it was their choice. These days we keep the secret of life from our children. What is the secret? Work, discipline, and properly directed will. Those things will bring us to a satisfaction that ultimately leads us inward, to Love.
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