In a recent interview with Playboy magazine, actress Scarlett Johansson was talking about her second marriage—now her second former marriage—and she offered up a now much-quoted opinion that marriage and monogamy are simply not natural. Here’s the Avenger star’s full quote:
I think the idea of marriage is very romantic; it’s a beautiful idea, and the practice of it can be a very beautiful thing. I don’t think it’s natural to be a monogamous person. I might be skewered for that, but I think it’s work. It’s a lot of work. And the fact that it is such work for so many people—for everyone—the fact of that proves that it is not a natural thing.
I’m not here to poke at Johansson’s comment or at the actress herself. Nope, I’m actually going to agree with her … in a way. I mean, in this very fluid, mobile world where Facebook posts proclaim that an individual’s happiness is a paramount virtue, well, it is a lot of work to deny the urges and desires that are very natural to us all.
Let’s face it, from birth on we’re loaded up with all sorts of emotions and desires. Even the Bible calls those things part of the “natural” side of us. They run the gamut from pride to anger to lust and greed. And even though our parents taught us to be polite and giving and tried to turn us toward better choices, there are plenty of other things in life nudging us toward pathways that don’t require so much effort. Hey, 90% of all the kids’ movies ever made tell tykes to be “true to themselves,” right? And what’s more true to yourself than to want to avoid the difficult stuff and do what comes naturally?
The problem is, even though we have a hard time remembering the past in this drive-forward day and age, history tells us that slipping easily toward those natural tendencies of ours tends to make us a bunch of miserable Mikes and Marys. In fact, I heard someone once say that almost every bad thing in the world today comes from folks who either don’t have or don’t live by a set of higher values. And that’s a statement worth pondering.
The natural side of me, for example, wants to stop at the Girl Scout table outside my local supermarket and snatch up all the edible treats I can carry. And it longs to do so every time I walk by. But if I did that, I’d be considerably fatter, considerably less healthy, considerably poorer, and, well, a considerably more grumbly and difficult person to be around, too. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not terrorism, but eating too many Thin Mints would put me and those around me under an unnecessary dark cloud.
So, what’s stopping me from a life of cloudy self-satisfaction? Gratifying all my wants even if they don’t really satisfy any of my needs? It’s just that little virtue of temperance that Mom pounded into me way back when.
We rarely talk about values and virtues these days, but for every pool of lustful, greedy and prideful feelings that we trip over and land face-first in, there are values such as chastity, charity and humility that can dry us off and help keep us relatively unscathed. Talk about counter-cultural.
OK, if you’re chuckling over my naivety in the face of the realities of this hard, cruel world, consider this: I would suggest that the nicest, the kindest, the most giving and most honest people you meet are those who are well aware of the values they hold. They are those who battle against their feelings and desires every day. They tend to do the work, even when it’s hard. Those folks live in a very unnatural state.
And don’t we all wish there were more of them?