Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Good and the Unique

My thinking about meaning and purpose has an overemphasis on uniqueness. I would like to be able to do something special and unique, something unlike anything else, something no one else has done. In science it's relatively easy to find that kind of thing because, by definition, science is about learning things no one else knew before. Art has similar aspirations. Few artists are interested in just painting pretty pictures; they want to make something new, and they want that newness to ripple out from themselves and affect others.

This all sounds good on paper, and yet in the real world it is remarkable rare. Most scientists and artists are not the ground-breakers they would like to be. They are more like ants in the ant-mound, struggling to carry their one little bit of leaf back to the hive. Collectively the scientific enterprise is managing to do good things, but the individual's contributions are relatively modest. I can speak less authoritatively about the artists, but I imagine they are having an even harder time of it.

And what of the millions of others, who aren't even within shooting distance of a claim to uniqueness? What about the bus drivers, the warehouse workers, the office administrators, and and everyone who "gets things done?" Their aspirations seem a lot more realistic: to do good. Built a good product. Deliver a good service. Be a good employee. It's not dramatic, but it would be truly snooty, not to say naive, to believe that it's not a real good.

But how many people go through life saying, "I was put on this planet by God Almighty to stack boxes" ? Not many. Which leads me to the conclusion: either not many people are thinking about meaning and purpose (at least the way I think about it) or they are finding their meaning elsewhere. Or maybe they are looking for meaning and not finding it and living miserable meaningless lives. All three options seem quite plausible. Judging from the sales of The Purpose-Driven Life, I think there are lot more people hungry for it than you might first guess. So what's the answer?



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