26 October 2009

What is the Purpose of Teaching Purpose?

Life's purpose is an odd and curious question. It might be the reason that just as we reach a point in human history in which the likelihood of dying from hunger or violence has gone down, we find a rise in the search for therapy and self help books, a susprising persistence of unhappiness.

In less developed communities, the work for food and shelter is enough to busy a person. Years ago, a little friend of ours from Texas, born in the late 1800s, announced to us, "Stress? All this talk about stress? We never had time for stress. We were too busy working."

And without a crush of information that needs to be processed and numerous myths and worldviews competing for our attention and undermining one another, life's purpose is essentially a given.

Here in the 21st century, survival is a given for many. Nor can we expect to duck the question of what overarching purpose to accept or define, defining what matters.

I wonder if taking a job or partner is not too often a substitute for the hard work of defining a life. The unemployed or recently separate are forced into an existential angst that the rest of us would just as soon avoid.

For the most part, there is little in traditional education to deal with this question of who one will be. It's left to the Learning Annex and issues of Oprah magazine.

Given this is hard to grade and harder to prescribe, the process of defining who one will be is likely to stay out of school curriculum in spite of its importance to leading a happy and fulfilled life. Meaning is too hard and too controversial so we'll just keep children focused on polynomials and parenthetical asides rather than purpose. Because if we have learned nothing else about education it is this: if you can't grade it on a standardized test, it ought not to be taught.


slouchy said...

I once read that anxiety will fill up precisely the amount of time and space that's allotted to it.

There's a down to down time.

Lifehiker said...

"Purpose". How about "Purposes"?

What makes a good day? Working on relationships. Experiencing the body. Sorting ethical dilemmas. Seeking mystical answers. Learning how things work.

The cool thing about life is that one is allowed to start out every day with the freedom to go down new avenues and perhaps stumble on new purposes.

Big Al said...


I do start out each day with a feeling of freedom to go down those new avenues, but then the neighborhood bully, the one whose name is 'Responsibility', jumps out to accost me. And his gang is backing him up: 'College tuition' and the twins 'Food & Shelter', to name a few.

I have a single friend who lives in a totally different neighborhood where he doesn't have these bullies. and I'm working right now to see if I can't somehow move there one day in the future.

sigh . . .

Lifehiker said...

Hey, Big Al.

I got that monkey called "Responsibility" on my back, too, and that sucker is heavy.

Most of us spend a lot of the day doing what must be done, but that still leaves time for being surprised by a new purpose or reading something that awakens a new thread in consciousness.

I feel sad for those whose lives are so dreary that there's hardly any place to go, no new purpose to act on. Especially sad because it's usually not "their fault".