by Matthew Boulton: Student of human flourishing and proponent of objective optimism
We can derive tremendous benefit from associating with other people, but only under certain conditions. We can learn from, trade with, enjoy the company of, and share romantic love with others. Here, I share ideas, stories, experiences, and other content related to defining and choosing the kinds of people who add to our flourishing, helping us each think about what are healthy versus unhealthy relationships.
Many of my friends in Korea who are not Nova Scotians (or Canadians) are unaware of the tragedy that has crashed upon many families in small communities in my beloved Nova Scotia. It has rocked the province as a whole, and any East Coaster around the world feels the horror, confusion, and anguish.
Happy wife, happy life? Maybe. It depends on what you mean. In this episode, Matthew submits that the usual way this expression is taken is subjective and therefore leads to mutual frustration and unhappiness. He offers instead an objective meaning, which gives the expression legitimacy and the power to help people achieve mutual happiness in a relationship.
And this wisdom isn’t just sound advice for a successful marriage, but for any long-term or close relationship.
In this episode, Matthew has fun dissecting the lyrics of a 2003 Ben Folds song, highlighting the wisdom within related to comparison culture. He discusses the repulsive nature of envy and bullying, and the futility of measuring one’s worth in relation to other people. See what messages you read in the sage words of Ben Folds. What’s your take?
The title is a summary version of a recent question from a reader, as it is more or less implied in what I say in a recent article, “There’s No Such Thing As a Necessary Evil. The reader quoted an excerpt from my article, then asked the question as follows:
The game day speech is a tough one. The epic battle speech is an even greater challenge. A leader has to assure his troops–calming their faulty nerves and relieving their anxieties and fears–while at once rousing their courage, passion, and determination to their fullest capacity just prior to the plunge. Aragorn nails his at the Black Gate of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
The title may be familiar to some as the 2003 Ben Folds song it is. As a new experiment in my English conversation class this upcoming semester, I’m going to have students discuss these lyrics, while of course highlighting the lessons I take from it myself. As in many Ben Folds songs, the lyrics colorfully present a strong message, and I thought it would be a fun way to introduce a theme for discussion I think will prove relevant to them.
While comparing against others is a personal and social problem in Western countries, expressed (in one aspect) in the idiom “Keeping up with the Joneses,” Korea has its own distinct comparison culture. Korea is a hyper-modern economy that moves at warp speed. The uber-competitive education system centers all around scores and rankings based thereupon. And when they’re done with that, most feel enormous pressure at “getting a good job,” which means—if not a “doctor, lawyer, or judge”—at one of the bigger companies (e.g. Samsung, LG, Hyundai, etc.). Anyone can do the math to see that achieving this measure of “success” is not going to be a reality for almost everyone, so the stress is tremendous.
My father said he would come to pick me up. I had made it from my junior high school to my friend’s house, but it was still kind of a long way home, so I thought it was a big score. It might take him several minutes to arrive, so my friend and I happily went downstairs and played mini hockey to pass the time.
“Beeeep!” (Was there something in that?) “Oh, he’s here!” I ran up the stairs and rushed to get my shoes on and my stuff together as I saw my dad’s car out the window. I had a smile on my face on saying goodbye to my friend, and I was feeling pretty light as I had just had fun and now didn’t have to walk home.
As I approached the car, however, something was changing inside my stomach.
I talk a lot. Ask anyone who knows me. I just now asked my wife, and she almost choked laughing and said, “Yeeees. In the all-time stupidest questions, that one is second.” (I didn’t inquire as to the first.) During a recent discussion of a hypothetical son and some aspects of how we would raise him, she at one point stared ahead into space and said, “Oh, god. I’d have two Boulton boys talking at me all day.”
But she has also added very recently, kidding aside, that she is actually very grateful for my disposition, no matter how tedious it may get. Reading some posts on social media of some women complaining of their husbands, she was bewildered at what she considered the impossibility of such impasses in her own life (not to mention her incredulity that anyone would share these grievances publicly). And these types of posts are typical, as we’ve seen over the years, and these issues are the themes of talk shows, TV dramas, and countless conversations among women in coffee shops and pubs across Korea and the world.