For the video version of this essay, scroll to the bottom for a YouTube link.
One of my students asked me a question. She asked, “Why do people have hobbies?” And I started writing a reply, but it’s a complicated question.
The concept of hobbies is relatively new. There was a time when survival was so difficult that few people had time to do anything but find a way to eat. And when they weren’t searching for food, they were battling some horrible illness. Conditions were that difficult. And it remains that way in many parts of the world. You can’t dream much, because you’re always in survival mode. And there have been times when I’ve been close to that mode myself.
But then, during those times when you have a pretty good idea that you’re going to eat; and that you’re reasonably safe in your home… During those periods, I can’t imagine being without a hobby.
Let’s go back in time. We advanced past the starvation point; the point where everything was about survival. And there came the era of learning a trade. Your trade became your livelihood. And your “hobby” became finding better ways to use and develop your skills. And people took pride in that. They took pride in working for themselves; figuring out the best way to do things. It tapped into their innate creativity.
But then the industrial age hit and things changed. Even a little before the industrial age things changed. Those who had more spare time, or came from wealthy families, weren’t content to do nothing, and they would start these endeavors. They would wonder about things, and experiment, or watch nature to see how it worked. And through their hobbies they became the first modern scientists.
And then the industrial age came, and with it mass production. And they needed people whom they could treat like machines. The worker was only a tool, and was treated like a tool.
Now some people take care of their tools, but most people kind of toss them aside; pay little attention to them. Others are downright abusive. And workers, being tools, were treated the same way.
So now, we have this group of people who is expected to work all of their lives to fulfill the dreams of a few. They’re discouraged from thinking, and they’re discouraged from being creative. Because creativity is a little inconvenient. It’s the source of everything we have, but when things are created, it means change; and we want to do things the same way if we’re getting rich through banality. But all that we have was born out of someone being creative!
But that industrial outlook has spread through the decades. And I guess it started snowballing with McDonald’s. It’s my understanding that McDonald’s was one of the first to say, “You know, we don’t want to keep our employees a long time. We want to turn them over quickly. Because it’s easier to abuse people and take advantage of them before they know their jobs well. Before they can use that inborn creativity and morph our business into something that helps other tools.”
But most human beings have a creative drive; a desire to think. When we’re told we can’t think, and can’t be creative, we get depressed.
So now we have these hobbies—things we can work on and think about in creative ways. They’re the only things that keep our mind active—the last bit that prevents us from becoming fully mechanized.
Unfortunately, this mechanization of human beings has also deprived us of so many insights and inventions, because it’s that creative spark that gives us everything that’s worthwhile. I’m talking about new inventions. I’m talking about the will to live. It’s that creative spark. The thing that moves us forward. And we’ve attempted to totally squash it from existence.
As a result, we see more and more dictators and quasi-dictators appearing. They often consider themselves industrialists or businessmen or gods (in their minds one and the same), and human capital (human resources), a tool to achieve their own ends. They fully believe that each person should serve quietly and expendably; never questioning; doing as told by them.
Throughout history, the only thing that has saved us over and over again has been that refusal by a certain number of people to lose their humanity. But it’s rare, because we’re so conditioned to do as told and not to think. We’ve come to a point in our society in which, I fear, people might be losing the capacity to think. But when people are prevented from thinking, they get angry.
That could explain a lot of the anger in our country and in much of the modern world. People need a certain amount of freedom to act upon their ideas. And I’m talking about constructive ideas that move the world forward. Although there are outliers who wish only to destroy, most people want to be constructive and helpful.
However, right now, the people are angry. Because they have been told they’re nothing, and they’ve been ordered not to use that creative spark. “Just be quiet. We know best.” A few people believe their creative spark overrides all of the multitude’s—the multitude of sparks that saves us over and over and over again.
So why do we have hobbies? I can tell you that there have been times in my life when I would have gone over the edge—I’d have been a basket case—without a “hobby.” When you work on a hobby, you’re allowing yourself freedom to use that creativity, and you’re learning about something that you find interesting. Doing something that you just want to do.
And learning is a part of creativity. And I don’t mean just book-learning. That’s a type of learning, but there are other types too. Some people learn just by doing; by experimenting; by playing.
I wonder if the demand for hobbies increased as the order to discard creativity became more forceful.
In corporate employment, there’s an implied remand: “Creativity is a waste of time. Thinking about anything that isn’t what your employer needs is a waste of time, including concern for family or friends. You are to dedicate yourself to becoming the ultimate replaceable cog. The task is to put Part A with Part B, unless the task is changed at [our] whim. Nonsensical tasks are unquestionable. We give you money and, in accepting money, you accept ownership—our ownership.”
But the more demanding life became, the more hobbies people tried. And then corporations liked that, because that sold product. Think of all these hobbies that people have. They all require equipment, parts, and things to make other things easier (such as the grunge part of the hobby). So business says, “Okay, we can sell this.” But the demand for these hobbies is partly because we’re looking for anything that will allow us to think and be creative and, in essence, to be human once more.
So why do we have hobbies? I don’t know. Why do you have hobbies?
I’ve got to say that my hobbies, my interests beyond work, have largely been the most rewarding part of my life. It certainly hasn’t been my daily working life, although I’ve gradually gone into work that I find more rewarding. That being said, much of my life was spent surviving. I needed money to survive, and getting money became more and more difficult because prices kept going up and wages never did, at least for the average person. If anything, they fell way behind.
Traveling to different places, that’s a hobby; photographing things; writing; studying something interesting—all of these things have made my life worthwhile. If I couldn’t do any of them and only had to go to my job every day… My gosh! I think I’d have packed it in a long time ago. And I’m not kidding.
I actually reached my lowest point when I had no hobbies and feared that working belittled (albeit challenging) jobs would be my forever-life. I got so depressed I couldn’t even get out of bed. For days I wept uncontrollably. Then I did some self-help, and that’s when I actually learned to help myself when I got that low. Because I felt so low.
But it was also a turning point. A lot changed during that low period. I decided I was going to make changes in my life, and I wasn’t going to apologize for it—or not much. I can say that, but I did. Because society pressures you into being miserable. It says, “Just do the same job forever, even if you hate it, because… Well, because it’s the way it’s done.”
And there’s really no need for that. We need all of those creative brains out there. We need everyone to be their best, and to do all of the things they could possibly achieve. We’re denying ourselves so much. And I don’t mean on an individual basis. I’m talking about as a group. By eliminating all of these ideas and these insights, by not letting people think and have time to think, we’re injuring ourselves.
Now people are working three jobs or extended, unpredictable shifts. They’re working all hours with little or no time off. In my country, everybody’s worried about getting sick, because everyone gets sick eventually, and then going bankrupt, and then being hounded by hospitals and doctors. It’s kind of a joke. Why do they make you feel better if they’re just going to make the rest of your life miserable. That doesn’t make sense, except for their pocketbooks.
But, anyway, that’s a whole other topic. But yeah, people are being ordered not to think and not to be creative. And I think a lot of the hostility in our country, in our society, comes from that. Because when people are told they’re nothing, they extrapolate that to everything around them. “If I’m nothing, you’re nothing either.” And soon nothing is worthwhile, and no one’s worthwhile, and no one cares about anyone or anything. But I guess a cog in a machine doesn’t care about the world, or its neighbors, or even itself.
So don’t be a cog. Be engaged. Be creative. Think and be human! And never apologize for any constructive hobby. Look forward to a day when you’ve the freedom to work in a sensible way, and you’re not hammered into place when a tooth misaligns. You were human long before you were absorbed into the corporate matrix [Google definition of matrix: a mass of fine-grained rock in which gems, crystals, or fossils are embedded].