Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Meaning Of Life

Man is nothing else, but what he makes of himself. ~Jean-Paul Sartre

Among the founding principles of our American democracy is the ideal that we each be free to pursue "happiness." That's not a guarantee of happiness, but rather an aspirational statement, one that envisions each of us having the opportunity to choose our own course in life; whether that leads to happiness (however that is defined) or not is up to each individual. I don't think anyone believes that we have, as a society, fully achieved this particular freedom of pursuit, but it's an ideal that has the virtue of being nobel.

I think about the "pursuit of happiness" nearly every day, my own and that of the children I teach. Indeed, I consider it my highest goal on most days, to do what I can to create a bubble within which we are all free to ask and answer our own questions, which is, I think, the key aspect of anyone's pursuit of happiness. Answering other people's questions simply makes you a tool of their pursuit. It's only through finding answers to our own questions that we come a little closer to our personal truth, and as Mister Rogers sang, "The truth will make me free."

As adults we tend to take a longer view, pinning our future happiness on a set of circumstances that, when achieved, will, we believe, cause us contentment and satisfaction, that will fill us with joy in the morning, love during the day, and peace at night. Children are more focused on their immediate futures and they typically don't spend a lot of energy contemplating even that, choosing to rather apply themselves to the pursuit, to their self-selected path, the one that is paved with their own curiosity. They understand better than we do that the word "pursuit" is best understood as a synonym for "search."

What I see children doing each day as they play, is search for nothing more or less than the meaning of life. As sophomoric as that sounds, I've come to understand that this what education in a democracy must always be about and the degree to which we lose sight of that is the degree to which we rob others of their right to their pursuit of happiness. Discovering the meaning of life, our own life, our one unique life, is what we're here to do. It's a question that we were born to ask and one that only we can answer for ourselves. And we can only do that when we are free to seek our own answers: in that direction lies the meaning of life.

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