Monday, April 14, 2014

Do all things have their seasons?

Is there a season for blooming?

In his essay “All things have their season” Montaigne writes about the Roman statesman Cato the Elder (234-149 BC): “[T]hat in his extreme old age he put himself upon learning the Greek tongue with so greedy an appetite, as if to quench a long thirst, does not seem to me to make much for his honour; it being properly what we call falling into second childhood.” (Essays, Book II, Ch. xxviii). In the next section Montaigne concurs with Eudemonidas who says about the Greek philosopher Xenocrates (396-314 BC), when seeing him very old, “still very intent upon his school lectures: ‘When will this man be wise,’ said he, ‘if he is yet learning?’ ” Montaigne put this on a par with an example of a Roman general who in the midst of a battle went away from his soldiers in order to pray for victory instead of leading his soldiers when most needed. “All things have their seasons, even good ones”, so Montaigne. Although he puts this remark later into perspective and says that there may be reasons that, for instance, an old man starts to study a language, actually one feels that Montaigne thinks that there is something wrong with such behaviour. But is there really a fundamentally right time or period for every human activity, or at least for most? I doubt it. I think that the appropriate time or period for certain activities depends rather on the values and insights of the age and society in which one lives than that it is an objective fact. This is the same as saying that in fact a correct time or period for human activities in general does not exist. What is right to do depends on the requirements of the situation and on individual choices.
Take for example this. Once sport was something done in particular by the male elite, at least in modern society since the middle ages (which didn’t exclude, however, that sport was actually also practised by the non-elite). Besides, it was especially for the younger ages, which was also, of course, a matter of fitness. Gradually more and more sport was accepted for the “lower” classes and for women, especially with the rise of new sports like football. Nevertheless it lasted until the end of the 1960s or even 1970s that it gradually became normal that sport was practised in a serious way by men older than, say, 30 years of age as well. Later it became also generally accepted for women. And only today it has become normal that older people, also older than 60 years of age, can practise sport more than in a leisurely and casual way. Even more, it is promoted for it is good for your health.
It’s only one example and maybe not even the most relevant one, although sport has become important on all levels of society. It illustrates, however, that what is seen as the right time to do something is not invariable. New insights develop and old insights change. Therefore I wonder whether all things really have their seasons. Isn’t it better to see it more practical and isn’t it also better to ask first what is basically against doing things in the “wrong” season? And as everybody knows today: seasons can change, too.

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