“Order is not pressure which is imposed on society from without, but an equilibrium which is set up from within” (José Ortega y Gasset).
TODAY’S WORD — “EQUILIBRIUM” — IS DIFFICULT TO DISCUSS ATTRACTIVELY FOR IT DOES NOT SOUND LIKE AN ENTHUSIASTIC IDEA TO MOST PEOPLE. And yet, the concept is one we can learn from. If it can be thought of as a personal quality, the first thing we need to understand is that equilibrium must come from within us, as Ortega y Gasset suggests. It is not something done for us but something we do. It’s the product of choices we ourselves make.
Leaving aside its special definition in physics and chemistry, let’s simply say that equilibrium means “mental or emotional balance; poise” (American Heritage Dictionary). All of us know what it’s like to have multiple priorities and many things to do. We also know about conflicting forces and mixed emotions. Life in this world is a complicated affair. So we admire the person who can live in the world and stay balanced or poised. It’s a quality we appreciate.
Leading a life of equilibrium is not easy. It can be done, but we shouldn’t look at someone who does it and think it’s effortless. In any important area of life, keeping things balanced requires that we (1) be honest enough to see when things have slipped out of balance, and (2) have the courage to make the necessary correction. Equilibrium is not a state we can achieve and then forget about. Instead, a balanced life is one where a person makes constant adjustments as a result of continual self-examination.
In addition to personal equilibrium within ourselves, we can also think of it in relation to other people. Think of some of your important relationships. Are they well-balanced or are some of them one-sided and in an unhealthy state of imbalance? No two persons will bring the same thing to a relationship, but I believe it is worth striving for an equilibrium in which our relationships are justly and fairly balanced.
Finally, shouldn’t there be an equilibrium between our present state and our future hopes? Shouldn’t we be content but also moved by aspiration? Perhaps so, but I would say this: if these particular scales are ever imbalanced, it should be in the direction of our dreams.
“Delicate equilibrium between dream and reality . . .” (Lillian Smith).