On having your life in order and on not having your life in order

I’ve begun sorting people according to 3 categories. (Get ready to cringe.)

The first are those who have their lives in order.* With a handful of these people, I’ve become friends. I respect them, and I seek to emulate them. They are beautiful people.

The second are those who don’t have their lives in order but who are relatively intact. Their conflicts are real and deep, their models for living are structurally unsound, but they have the virtues necessary, or so I think, to put their lives in order given enough luck, time, and experimentation. These people are good candidates for self-transformation, but they are not good candidates for bon ami friendship.

The third are those who don’t have their lives in order and who are not at all intact. In fact, they’re falling apart at the seams. Most people I run into fall into this category. It’s very sad, really. The right emotional response is compassion. The right social response is caritas (charity). The right subway response is caution and avoidance.

A good life is an epic life. (Category 1)

A trying life is a comic** life. (Category 2)

A bad life is a tragic life. (Category 3)


* On “lives in order,” see, e.g., “Models for Post-University Life” and “Our Failure of Imagination,” Inside Higher Ed.

** “Comic” in the dramatic sense. Someone might be strong enough to laugh at himself or ironize himself. Being comic, so understood, is also quite tough.