Enjoyment and Use

Every day when I walk around school to see how lunch is going and watch the latest iteration of tag played by students on the asphalt, I wonder how young minds think about enjoyment. And if I asked them, “why do you like playing that?” they’d likely respond with, “I don’t know. I just do.” It’s a sentiment more than a reason and that’s to be expected. Enjoyment in things stimulate our body’s endorphins which in turn help regulate mood, pleasure, and even our inclination to show empathy toward others. When students play they are in fact able to be their own best friend! When other students are using a tablet app or researching for a project, I wonder about how they use things. Some may abuse it to cyberbully other students but that same technology can help promote innovation in the classroom and build collaborative group work with peers. For both enjoyment and use, there are right and wrong applications for each.

St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430 CE) wrote about the distinction between these two important moral actions of enjoyment (frui) and use (uti). The right orientation of enjoyment and use is to direct it toward its proper end or goal. An example from Augustine would prove useful here. For him, the three goods of marriage are procreation, fidelity, and the sacrament. To bring children into the world who are raised in the faith to represent the indissoluble union of the couple is the proper alignment of both enjoyment and use. Conversely, we can also enjoy and use both things and people in misguided and disingenuous ways: words can hurt, alcohol can be consumed excessively, and people’s good will can be exploited. But to honor and value something or someone for the sake of who they are or what they represent speaks to the dignity and reverence that we are called to witness.

I like to remind colleagues that it’s not the “what” but the “how” that is important in building relationships. How we speak with someone is often more important that the subject of what we are discussing; it frames the respect needed in any relationship. How we recognize and cultivate an appreciation for the beauty that emanates from this world reminds us that we are made in the image and likeness of a God who calls us into relationship. How we grow in our ability to use things like power, wealth, and prestige to be in solidarity with the most vulnerable members of society is an invaluable metric for how far we’ve come as a civilization. And there is nothing more enjoyable than knowing that a life of virtue is one worth living.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

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