Searching For an Answer
When I was young I thought the whole point of growing up was to become wise.
I guess I thought that’s what school was about.
After all, we spend anything from ten to twenty years at the beginning of our lives learning stuff — presumably to help us become better adults, better human beings.
One thing that struck me as odd, at the time, was that people didn’t seem to get any wiser as they got older.
Quite the opposite.
The older people got, I noted, the more rigid, inflexible and closed they seemed to become.
To say this confused me is an understatement.
I remember promising myself I wouldn’t get that way.
I wouldn’t be one of those people who was sure about everything — had a definitive opinion on all things and couldn’t see that nothing could be that concrete.
You know people like this.
They have a lifetime of experiences that have led them to certain beliefs that may be true for them, yet aren’t always part of others’ philosophies.
Successful people are often the worst in this regard.
Their experiences have apparently taught them that these facts or those events or their particular character traits are the only things that matter — and that we should listen to them, heed their advice, even honor them.
But I think one of the main reasons why young people have such difficulty relating to older folks is that while experience can be a great teacher, the lessons learned are often irrelevant to the next generation.
People have an inbuilt need to learn for themselves.
And to prove the previous generation they were wrong or at best, living in a different time.
Without this inbuilt, perhaps genetically encoded, need to make the same mistakes over and over, we’d probably be lost as a species.
Yes, certain facts and lessons from five thousand years of civilization become self evident — but we still need a decade or more of schooling to help us all see them!
We don’t know much about an 18th Dynasty Egyptian king called Akhenaten, except that he introduced his people to the idea of deifying only one god instead of many — perhaps the first important personage in history to publicly do so.
He said: “True wisdom is less presuming. The wise man doubts often, and changes his mind; the fool is obstinate and doubts not; he knows all things but his own ignorance.”
This is a remarkably rational and I would suggest even contemporary piece of profundity echoing down through the millennia to speak to us.
Because it says it all.
That rigid thinking, that a belief that there is only one answer, or one important way of thinking, is a huge mistake, a sign of mediocrity at best.
Indeed, if you think about it, obstinacy is the root cause of pretty much all our problems.
How many wars are fought over a difference of opinion?
Uh — perhaps all of them?
Thing is, if there’s no definitive answer, no ultimate truth, who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong?
What are we trying to do when we impose our opinion, our values on others?
Who wins when the victor’s opinion reigns until the next leader vies for domination?
It would be nice to think there was actually some ultimate truth to be had, some set of insights we could gain that would lead to wisdom, enlightenment and perfect peace.
But if such a thing were possible, where would it leave us?
In some kind of heavenly utopia?
Fact is, the answer is not in the knowing, it’s in the seeking.
Motivation comes from the need to understand and learn.
But it’s not the answer that’s important.
No, it’s just wanting to know it.
The process by which we try to uncover the truth is the essential journey.
It’s not the resolution that’s the most beneficial to us, it’s the quest.
Which is my roundabout way of saying that you can never know all the answers — but that it’s important to keep looking for them.
To remain flexible in all your work — and in your life.
Because once you decide that one thing is definitively true, you begin to undermine its veracity.
Truth, beauty, wisdom, after all, are all in the eye of the beholder.
And what is absolutely true for one can only be a guide for others.
That’s the nature of being human.
Not a bad thing.
Merely a fact of life.
Artists know this instinctively. That’s why they keep going — not to create perfection or truth but to aspire to it, to make a conscious effort to journey towards it.
In this sense, we are all artists of our own lives.
We do stuff, we interact, we learn, we try to make sense of everything and create a better way.
But if this process makes us rigid, biased, judgmental and prejudiced, it’s surely wrong.
The next time you find yourself expressing a damning opinion based on your ‘experience’, you know that you too have fallen victim to the lure of wanting to know something without doubt.
True wisdom is less presuming, as the great man said…
Curiously, Akhenaten was roundly loathed by his own people, especially the religious elders who saw his ‘sun cult’ as an attack on their power, which I’m sure it was intended (partly) to be.
After Akhenaten’s death, the Egyptians tried to expunge his memory from their history, as though he were some kind of aberration best forgotten.
Time — the great leveler — has proved his message had merit.
The best we can do is hope that we too can leave something behind that makes a difference, that shines a light on the path.
Because the search for the answers must always, surely, continue…
The Writing Academy