“The growth of things is a tardy process and their undoing is a rapid matter.” Seneca the Younger, in Letters from a Stoic.
One of the earliest lessons of childhood is that building something takes a good long while, but destroying it takes an instant. It’s a fascinating, perplexing, and stressful lesson all at once. I know; I teach four-year olds.
In a four-year-old’s life, the lesson is an ever present factor in play. Preschoolers watch with fascination as the twenty dominoes they spent minutes lining up topple over in a one-and-a-half-second chain reaction. They often look up perplexed when a structure they’ve been building for a while instantly crumbles when they place a block on a structurally wrong place.
Sometimes, they anxiously guard their building area against accidental destruction by peers. Other times, out of frustration or to get attention, they will destroy a peer’s structure on purpose.
It’s an important early lesson on how life works I guess. Fortunately for them, four-year-olds still know how to live in the moment. They care more about learning how to build. When they do get upset, they don’t waste much time crying over what can’t be undone. They try again or quickly move on.
Often, they actually see the “undoing” of their work with fascination rather than frustration— which is a wonderful thing, because stuff gets destroyed or needs to be put away at least nineteen times during a four-year-old’s day.
That things come undone much faster than they take to grow is a fact of life. It is why we must safeguard and appreciate what we’ve built, and why we must be mentally prepared (the Stoic way) for the possibility of losing it tomorrow, next week or whenever.
Seneca’s quote applies to so many things, human and non-human, personal and societal: relationships, wealth, a tree, reputation, credibility, an ecosystem, a bank account, a home, wealth, businesses of any size, democracies (yes, a democracy can disappear in a generation, as Venezuelans know well), a fit body, a garden.
Appreciate and care for them because you know they’re fragile, while keeping in mind that their continued existence is not fully under your control. Only your values and reactions are.
Day 17 of 30-day writing challenge on a single topic: Quotes from Seneca the Younger’s Letters from a Stoic.
Why this topic? Because I can’t get over how timely and brilliant Seneca’s words are -2,000 years after he wrote them.