“All these things are interconnected.”
Xenophon, The Estate Manager
This is one of my all-time favorite quotations. It speaks to so many things. The original context in Xenophon is Ischomachus reporting how he would put his horse through its paces while riding over his estate. This had a three-fold purpose: it kept him healthy and in shape, it trained him (and his horse!) for war, and it gave occasion to watch over the agricultural production on his estate.
I’m convinced that this statement expresses a broader confidence that the various aspects of a good human life are always intertwined. We are surprised again and again to find that in a well-ordered life what is good for us in one way ends up being good for us in other ways too, often in spirit and body.
There are much better examples of this than taking cool showers. Yet I think it not beneath our notice that in cool showers, too, we find a pleasing and practical, even if somewhat uncomfortable, example.
I say ‘cool’ because cold showers can be downright painful and might seem beyond reach. Cool is a relative term and can denote the range from ‘definitely not warm’ to ‘bordering on cold.’ So how are such showers multivalent?
First, they can be part of a plan to develop the virtue of courage. According to Aristotle at the heart of courage is the ability to endure what is difficult, in view of the human good. Now we don’t, or in any case shouldn’t, go out and orchestrate difficult circumstances in daily life. Life will deliver difficulties sufficient for the day, and such will be the main context for practicing courage. At the same time, chosen practices that toughen our body and strengthen our will offer a real opportunity to grow our discipline and resolve in view of the good.
Second, cool showers conserve energy. As I look at my day and ask myself: where is a low-hanging fruit opportunity to lessen the amount of fuel I consume, the answer that comes to me is showers. As a rule, we Westerners take showers notably longer and notably warmer than they need to be. This unnecessarily, perhaps even profligately, consumes a large quantity of energy.
One might venture a ‘so what?’ at this point. Might not the whole energy crisis thing be overblown, and besides, do my showers really make a difference?
The answer to this objection seems straightforward. I don’t know the scientific ins and outs of the world’s energy supply. But I am convinced of this: it is fitting and indeed righteous that we have an attitude of stewardship toward the earth’s resources. By any measure these resources are ultimately limited, and we should work together to assure that all people can get what they need. Further, an attitude of gratitude is expressed in treating the gifts we have received with appropriate care.
It seems to me that willingly foregoing comfortably warm showers is an excellent way to foster and express a conviction that the earth’s resources are a gift to all of us—a gift that should be appropriately treasured. So whether my small efforts will significantly impact the bigger picture or not, it is simply a good thing to do. In fact then this second reason to take cool showers ends up being twofold: the resources are conserved and we practice the appropriate inner attitude toward them.
There is science that suggests that cool, perhaps especially cold showers also have positive health benefits. The first two reasons above might be sufficient in themselves, but it won’t be surprising to discover that there are more good reasons to take cool showers, at least sometimes. Just a small instance here, of how ‘all these things’ are wonderfully interconnected.
Xenophon (430-354 B.C.) was a soldier, historian, and philosopher of Athens. Like Plato he wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as a great teacher. Among these dialogues is Oeconomicus, translated as The Estate Manager, in which we get an insight into the structure and principles of the ancient household.
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