I had this great class in college… political philosophy. Now before you yawn and click, hear me out. The professor on the first day of class said writing for his class was going to be the biggest challenge any of us faced because we all didn’t know how to write. He was right. All classes previously dealt with complex subjects and allowed… no encouraged… us to write diatribes on those complexities. 60 page paper on why the 55mph speed limit became a law and the legislative process, no problem. But his challenge was this: one page papers.
It was probably the best life lesson I learned in college: distilling hard complex problems/thoughts down to what matters.
The first paper was convincing Americans to switch our form of government from democracy (as a reminder the ancient Greeks hated democracy… translates to mob rule) to Plato’s Republic (where everyone is basically born into their station in life.)
This stressed me out! I spent days writing, re-writing until nervously handing it in. When the papers came back he said everyone failed… I was crushed. Then he said except one and started reading my paper!
Fast forward 13 years and he contacted me and said he’s asking 100 people to do a one-page paper again for a book he was writing, Befriending Death. The question this time: “Knowing that you are going to die, how do you find meaning and fulfillment in life?” Woah…heavy.
So on a 22 hour flight to Singapore I wrote the following:
Life is lived in the contrasts of our experiences. Our experiences are the images, our reactions are our choice of color, and the purpose we place on the meaning form the brush strokes that paint our personal tapestries.
A birth, a first kiss, getting into a University, winning a race, laughing with friends, weddings, reunions, deaths. All evoke an emotion that contrasts the experience that emit a different color unique to individuals in life. Placing purpose on the contrasts define meaning and fulfillment of intrinsic goals where individuals find happiness.
It is hard to find the meaning and fulfillment because we remove the certain uncertainty of death with religion as our first mechanisms to deal with the contrast of despair. Despair rips at the fabric of what makes the human experience fulfilling because it tears at meaning and purpose.
Religious dogma reinforces the removal of contrast. It creates a paint-by-the numbers guide to the answers on the images of life. The result is a clear picture, but ultimately an unsatisfying one because it was defined by someone else. With no pride in ownership, meaning is lost and the art is not worth viewing once completed.
We look to automate our lives and remove contrasts to whitewash suffering. We follow the same path to work, stitch together the same routine and neutralize experiences through routine. Assigning purpose is hard. It takes self-awareness to place a purpose between stimulus and response to create our own quilts.
Weaving our tapestries together form the quilts of families, communities, countries and society. Depending on how much and what we weave leaves behind a guide to legacy, learning and love for future weavers.
To see the other 99 and he called me out in the forward as well 🙂