“Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria.” – Amos 6:1
That famous quote by Henry David Thoreau, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” is a rather sad commentary about mankind, don’t you think? What it says to me is that there are two types of people, those – “the mass of men” – who with no real sense of purpose are complacent to simply take whatever they can out of life for their own comfort and survival. That’s one group. But then there’s another group who seem to be on a mission to enrich the world and make it a better place than they found it.
My friend Gary Barkalow in his book It’s Your Call contrasts these two types of people by imagining yourself boarding a cruise ship for the vacation of your dreams only to become disappointed by bad weather, turbulent seas, poor service and so-so food. Then imagine yourself boarding a battleship with a different set of expectations – hard work, rough weather conditions, food that isn’t great though it sustains you. You’re there, though, because you are on a mission to do good, to make the world a better place.
“In the first story,” Gary writes, “the theme was rather small – personal comfort, enjoyment, peacetime: vacation. In the second story the theme was large – great mission, transcendence, a time of war: the battle for freedom and life. Most of us live under the illusion of the first story,” he goes on, “while assenting to the reality of the second story. . . . We have made our lives about being on a vacation cruise liner, rather than about realizing we are on a battleship heading toward a great mission.”
The “mass of men” Thoreau refers to have boarded the cruise liner which is never as fulfilling as one would hope or expect, at least not in the long term, which is why they tend to lead lives of “quiet desperation”. The person on a mission, on the other hand, the one who embarks on life with a sense of purpose expecting there will be sacrifice and hardships along the way, that person is the one whose life is abundant. “Woe to you who are complacent . . .” But it doesn’t have to be that way; for we each have a choice. We can board the cruise liner, or we can board the battleship. Which have you boarded?