19 February 2014
The Meaning Of Life
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
If it’s the case that everyone on the planet is different, a distinct entity, each with their own unique combination of characteristics, interests, and skills (not to mention physiological make-up), then why is it that “the world” insists on treating us all alike, trying to enforce on us a generic, societal norm to which we are expected to conform?
I have often noted how there appears to be a pattern to life that we are expected to comply with - it’s subtle, for the most part, but it’s there. No-one states it outright - the government doesn’t announce that we’re being herded and penned in like sheep where they want us to be, but that’s what seems to be happening.
Think about it - we’re born, and for a little while at the beginning we’re free. But then we’re expected to be sent to school, and suddenly our lives are no longer our own anymore, ‘cos here is where we will be both ‘socialised’ and ‘formally’ educated in the topics and manner that someone else far removed from us dictates is appropriate (our parents have very little say in this, once they agree to turn us over to the education system), with the end goal being that we shall, hopefully, be moulded into useful citizens who will conform and contribute to society.
Which basically means that our main objective in life will be expected to be working and making money - who gives a shit if you’re happy while you’re doing it? Hell, everybody knows that having money makes you happy. Don’t they? Well, that’s what ‘the world’ would expect us to believe anyway, it seems. Must be, since there’s so much emphasis placed on it.
Along with making money goes the expectation that we shall want to find a romantic partner in order that we may settle down some day (kind of like sediment) and have a family, for whom we will have to provide, thus keeping alive the incentive for working, and directing our focus on the continued need to make money. And, of course, since we have the equipment for making babies, then it’s assumed that we will naturally want to use it for that purpose at some point. If not, then there’s something obviously ‘wrong’ with us (as if there weren’t already enough things ‘wrong’ with me already!)
Then we head into retirement, the time that we expect to be able to finally take it easy, stop chasing the money, and hopefully be able to do all those things that we weren’t able to do previously because we were too busy having to focus on making a living in order to live. And, hopefully, of course, by now we’ve made enough to do those things.
Except that we might well find that by this time we’ve lost the energy, enthusiasm, motivation, and physical ability to do a lot of what we dreamed of doing, having been sucked dry by the stress and general wear and tear of daily life. Plus, of course, some of us may well have dropped down dead before then, which kind of puts the kibosh on any such plans. So retirement literally becomes a time when we’re put out to pasture, like an old horse, for whom there’s very little use any more. Gee, sounds great. I can’t wait.
I understand now why, for almost the whole of the first thirty years of my life, I felt a deep sense of melancholy and gloom, having this as my invisible blueprint for what was expected of me in order to be considered a success in life, and to achieve happiness.
One aspect in particular to which I have been giving a lot of thought (that means obsessing) in recent weeks is school. Do you realise that you don’t actually have to go to school; that you can legally opt out? I didn’t know that, until now. All those years I laboured under the illusion that I had no choice: it was either attend school, or get into trouble for truancy. God, was I pissed off when I found out!
Sure, I’d vaguely heard about homeschooling, where, if you’re lucky, you get to be taught at home by either your parents or a private tutor. But still, you follow the curriculum set by the education department, and you take exams.
I also recently found out that there are ‘alternative’ schools (like the Steiner Waldorf system), which place their emphasis on the needs of the individual pupil, rather than the institution, and which follow their own curriculum, giving equal importance to creative endeavours (like art, drama, dance, etc) as well as to the academic; as well as to the needs of the whole person. Where were these people when I needed them?!
And from there I discovered unschooling, a movement dedicated to not forcing education on your child at all, but to allowing the natural process of learning to take place. In unschooling parents don’t dictate what ‘should’ be learnt, but rather allow their children to decide what they would like to learn, based on their interests and abilities. Nor are they expected to prove their understanding by jumping through the hoop of exams, being tested like a bloody piece of machinery before it’s allowed off the factory line and sent off to be sold.
I was astonished. I was dumbfounded. I was envious. God, I wish my parents had known about that stuff when I was a child. Instead of which I had to endure the agony, the monotony and tedium, not to mention the chronic anxiety directly related to being shoved through an average, non-creative education system, which did a grand job of sucking the soul (both creative and otherwise) out of me and my artistic aspirations.
I went in there with a mind and body bursting with energy and ideas, but a lack of direction (mainly courtesy of having unrecognised ADHD). I came out subdued, lifeless, full of anxiety and fear about the future, and with hardly a thought to call my own, so well-indoctrinated had I been. But hey!, I’d got the qualifications to get myself a job as some kind of clerical worker/typist. Wow! Dizzy heights, I know. What a lot to look forward to, a lifetime of being trapped in an office, with people.
I’d had all of my dreams of being a writer, an artist, an athlete dismantled. All gone by the wayside, all considered to be simply unrealistic daydreams, fantasies, the luxury of people with the money and time to indulge in them. Childish. Unattainable. Out of my league. Considered back then to be ‘hobbies’, and not something you could make a living from: not ‘real’ work.
No, real work is the stuff that you do to make money; that makes you miserable; that isn’t supposed to be enjoyable; that you’re glad is over by the end of the day (like school). If you’re enjoying it then you must be doing something wrong.
And because I couldn’t use them as a means to make a living, they quickly fell by the wayside, and I stopped doing them altogether once I left education (an autistic trait, I believe - seeing no reason to do something unless it has an end purpose: mere enjoyment is not enough).
So why would God make us all uniquely individual, bestow on us widely differing gifts and talents, and then expect us to cast them aside in favour of having to learn and master the same things (egs maths, science, computers/IT, languages), thus turning us into mass-produced automatons? I guess the answer to that is that S/He doesn’t - man does that.
Imagine all those remarkable people who have lived unique and highly creative lives, not conforming to the ‘norm’, who have produced so much incredible stuff. How would our world look now if they’d all been forced to go through an education system designed to make them conform, and to remove their individuality? If they’d been forced to live an ‘average’ life, making worldly goods and achievements their goals? Doesn’t bear thinking about really, does it? We’d still be living in the dark ages - literally, ‘cos no-one would have had the foresight to use their imagination to come up with the concept of electricity.
We’d all still be relying on the sun, living in caves, chasing wild animals, and procreating. Mind you, sounds preferable to the life of an ‘average’ person now - living in a shoebox-sized home, with paper-thin walls, and crammed like sardines in a tin; and working in a shoebox-sized office, with paper-thin or no walls at all, crammed in like sardines. And people wonder why we have so many health problems when we live such an unnatural existence. Are they mad?
"Do you believe in Magic?" asked Colin.
"That I do, lad," she answered. "I never knowed it by that name, but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany. Th' same thing as set th' seeds swellin' an' th' sun shinin' made thee well lad an' it's th' Good Thing. It isn't like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th' Big Good Thing doesn't stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin' worlds by th' million - worlds like us. Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it - an call it what tha' likes. Eh! lad, lad - what's names to th' Joy Maker."
From 'The Secret Garden', by Frances Hodgson Burnett
"There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way."
The Dalai Lama
"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."