The unconditioned air conditioned
Updated: Jul 4, 2019
As the 4th of July approaches, I am reminded of the many Independence Days I celebrated with my family as a boy: the hot dogs and hamburgers we burned to a crisp on the grill, the fireworks we went to see at a local school every year, and the sweltering heat of early July in Virginia. My friends and I would run around in the blazing, water-laden mid-summer air until we didn't have the strength to continue, souped up to nausea on Pepsi, hose water, and candy and drenched in our jean shorts and horizontal-striped polos (with a fox on the breast, of course). It was a grand ol' time, and when the evening fireworks were completed, we retreated to our "unconditioned" homes, where the heat of the day had created a veritable brick-oven environment inside. Mom would throw open the windows, and we would continue our sweat-fest into the night as we listened to a symphony of frogs and crickets harmonize through the screen windows. And you know what...we didn't know any better!
I was talking to a friend the other day about how intolerant I have become to the heat. I lamented the 90 degree plus temperatures that day as I continuously wiped the sweat from my brow and longed to find a building--any building--with air conditioning. I needed a break. And then it occurred to me...I've become a wimp! As a boy, if I had needed a break from the sun, I would have simply found a shade tree, a pond or pool, or just drenched myself with water. But today, I am conditioned for air conditioning. It is a necessity. Who owns or rents a home without it these days? I honestly cannot think of one person I know who doesn't have air conditioning. Once a convenience, air conditioning has become no less important than the front door. And who would build a home without a front door?
All of this reminds me of a life principle I've discovered and canonized in my personal philosophy of life. I call it the Rule of Convenience and Resiliency. This rule succinctly states, "As convenience increases, resiliency decreases." It is a rule of inverse relations. As our physical conveniences multiply--as we become more reliant on things such as social media technology; environmental controls like air conditioning, sound-proofing, and dust filtration; and mechanisms that do everything from open our van doors automatically to control our televisions remotely to vacuum our floors without any human input--our ability to handle life's inevitable exigencies and disappointments declines dramatically. Another way to conceptualize the principle is this:
The easier we make life on ourselves, the easier we expect life to be. Unfortunately, life is not easy! Consequently, physical ease can set up unrealistic expectations.
And what is the result of ignoring this principle and allowing it to proceed without restraint? A generation of wimps...or at least a generation that is wimpier than previous generations. No, I'm not giving you the "kids these days" speech. What I'm proposing is much more constructive, namely, that convenience may not always be convenient, and we must guard against becoming complacent and weak-minded as the physical demands of life decrease in our first-world context.
So, my encouragement for everyone today is to take heed of this principle in your life and look for ways to harden yourself a bit. Don't always look for convenience. Sometimes it's good to chop wood and burn the wood stove, even though you have electric heat. Why not buy the car with manual windows? Not only will you force yourself to do some physical labor, but you'll also save a little money! Run outside in the hot, humid air and up and down a few hills instead of on a flat treadmill in an environmentally controlled gym. And what about throwing open the windows tonight instead of running the AC? Maybe the serenade of crickets and frogs will remind you of your humanity, the beauty of God's creation, and the elemental nature of being. And, who knows...maybe you'll even build a little resiliency--the same sort of resiliency that motivated our inconvenienced forefathers to embark upon the great American experiment.