The Incessant Need to Distract Ourselves

How does it happen that this man, so distressed at the death of his wife and his only son, or who has some great lawsuit which annoys him, is not at this moment sad, and that he seems so free from all painful and disquieting thoughts? We need not wonder; for a ball has been served him, and he must return it to his companion. He is occupied in catching it in its fall from the roof, to win a game. How can he think of his own affairs, pray, when he has this other matter in hand? Here is a care worthy of occupying this great soul, and taking away from him every other thought of the mind. This man, born to know the universe, to judge all causes, to govern a whole state, is altogether occupied and taken up with the business of catching a hare. And if he does not lower himself to this, and wants always to be on the strain, he will be more foolish still, because he would raise himself above humanity; and after all he is only a man, that is to say capable of little and of much, of all and of nothing; he is neither angel nor brute, but man.


There is a deep seated angst in the soul of man. It is the terrible uncertainty of life and death and the fragility with which our existence holds together.

Pascal excellently demonstrates this above.

There is a great capacity in humans for greatness. Humans govern nations. Humans probe the universe with their research efforts. They can gaze across the cosmos or around the corner, even into the lives of their neighbours.

And yet, when grief and hardship come, we flee to distraction. As if to alleviate our own existential angst, we play games.

This is the human condition, apparently. Pascal accepts this as a given: This is the way of things. He states it with no judgement.

The plain fact of humanity is that it is what it is.

And yet as we are there is a deep-set anxiety and disturbance. We must alleviate this for ourselves. This is our natural way.

Think about it.

As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
Psalm 103:15-16

One Comment

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  1. Bits of this piece reminded me of this bit of Hamlet (Act II, Scene ii):

    “What a piece of worke is a man! how Noble in
    Reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving
    how express and admirable! in Action, how like an Angel!
    in apprehension, how like a God? the beauty of the
    world, the paragon of animals; and yet to me, what is
    this quintessence of dust! Man delights not me; no,
    nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seeme
    to say so.”

    …which in turn is probably inspired by Psalm 8.

    Good post. 🙂


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