Meaning and Purpose Discovered, Not Taught and Learned

12 06 2007

From our blogrolled “Parenting Beyond Belief” :

. . .“Meaning and purpose” is not an all-or-nothing commodity. It goes up, it falls down. It swings around wildly, trying to find its bearings. I don’t believe there is, or should be, one universal “meaning of life,” god-based or otherwise, no one thing that keeps all of our needles pinned. Neither do I believe we make our own meaning from pure random scratch. I think we discover what is fulfilling for us. We feel in the pits of our stomachs when we’re on a hollowing path, then register a shock of recognition when we veer onto another that fills us up.

When I was eighteen, I had no idea that family would end up being the most fulfilling element of meaning and purpose for me. I had to go hollow for a long time first. One of the most painful parts of parenting will surely be watching my kids go through trial and error in their own search for meaning — left foot in, left foot out, right elbow in, right elbow out. I may think I want them to be happy and fulfilled every minute of their lives, but no predigested meaning and purpose is going to feed them in the long run.




4 responses

13 06 2007

I also liked this Thinking Parent approach to the handy-dandy “babies and bathwater” analogy as argument (for anything, but in this case religion):

There is something between throwing out the baby and letting it marinate endlessly in the cold and filthy water. My intention is to do what any parent does: discern which is the baby and which the bathwater, then lift the baby gently from the water, dry her off, dress her in warm jimmies, feed her, nuzzle her, and sing her to sleep.
My single greatest complaint with religion is not that it contains both good and bad, but that it has no procedure for separating one from the other. My highest praise for science is not that it is devoid of bad consequences but that it comes complete with ways to discern, that it is founded on a method for separating wheat from chaff — that it tries, however haltingly and imperfectly, to perfect itself.
The next time someone invokes babies and bathwater, stop the conversation, define the baby — and reach for a clean, dry towel

13 06 2007

I like the point, “I had to go hollow (for a time).” Somewhere in the new Chris Hedges book he talks about the fear of emotional discomfort that religious leaders exploit in order to win converts. The constant focus on the “peace that only Jesus brings” is a big selling point; but, of course, it comes at a price. Like Thoreau said, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” What a revelation it would be for some, I think; “It’s okay to feel hollow from time to time.” Not only will it allow you to develop a deeper level of empathy for other human beings, it will provide contrast when you do “veer onto another that fills (you) up.

14 06 2007

Lynn: What a revelation it would be for some, I think; “It’s okay to feel hollow from time to time.”
This is such a frightening thought, apparently. People would rather believe ANYTHING than accept not knowing (yet 🙂 ).


14 06 2007

I’ve seen cognitive psychology researchers describe the potential negative in our thinking and feeling as relatively stronger to the normal human than the same potential positive.
In other words, we work harder to avoid loss than to seek the same amount of gain.
So I wonder if that comes into play in the attraction to a solid, well-defined belief that one seems unlikely to have to surrender later, rather than seeking potential gain of knowledge and enlightenment that *could be* wildly valuable but also might leave one hollow and feeling lost?
So does the research suggest then in normal human psychology, that our fear of losing hope is stronger than our hope of losing fear? That would explain a LOT!

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