The Narcissism of the “Third Thing”

One set of responses I received to last week’s piece on “The Third Thing” was quite interesting. Anand emailed, “Frankly, it makes me realize that doing these things is ‘absolutely human and normal’. Thanks my friend once again.” Mehul on FB said, “Good to know there are a lot many more people out there…I thought I was the only fool to take up Muay Thai at the age of 46.”
I didn’t realize there were people my age doing stuff outside of their work and families, keeping it to themselves and worrying they would be misunderstood. So here’s to all you mid-40ers…if you feel a void, a yearning to do something else, something apart from your job or profession, something that perhaps does not necessarily involve another family member, then, “you are not alone”.
Readers and friends responded with a variety of “third things” ranging from scuba diving to frequent breaks in the hills to playing the piano or the guitar or the tabla, to journalism classes to yoga and Gita reading to tennis to fitness to Muay Thai kickboxing or Tai Chi or even getting a classic “starter” car. Some had “fourth” and “fifth things” as well, trying to make up for lost time.
In all of this though, what seemed to be missing was a “third thing” for spirituality, philanthropy and social work, especially the latter.
Many of our parents’ generation turn to spiritualism as their “third thing”, which often becomes their “second thing” if they have retired or a “first thing” if a spouse has passed away and/or there are no grandchildren around. Spirituality may be internal or it may be externalized by going more frequently to temples or other places of worship, embarking more often on jatras and religious holidays and attending satsangs and other similar “collective whoosh” moments.
But more importantly we seem to be coming up a little short when it comes to philanthropy and social work. While we keep doing some charity or the other by given token amounts of money to people who come to us for social enterprises, hardly anyone talks about this as his/her “third thing”. Our “third things” are either examples of narcissism, related to our bodies and minds (yoga, fitness, running, etc) or acquiring new skills (music, dance, writing, etc) or have to do with materialistic acquisitions (computers, cars, motorbikes, etc). While there is nothing wrong with any of these, the fact remains that even as “fourth” or “fifth” things, no one talks about charity and philanthropy.
I don’t have statistics for other parts of the world. While it is true that in the Western world, especially the US of A, a good percentage of personal income is given to charity, cutting a cheque sitting on a table also does not qualify as a “third thing”. I wonder if that’s how the world is today…fewer people moving on to philanthropy and charity as a “third thing”, as compared to other activities.
Is it possible that to fill the void within us, we perhaps need to think of those less fortunate than us and be less narcissistic, self-absorbed, self-involved and insular? I don’t have answers, just questions, but for all those who identified with last week’s article, perhaps this is some food for thought!
Or maybe now that many of us have tasted some form of success, we are trying to look for “significance” with respect to the world around us? And perhaps in that quest, we are mistaking the trees for the forest? (Thanks, Shimpa!)
I don’t know. Do you?

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