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.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The SKS Elevator Pitch

The UNC Self Knowledge Symposium is having its first meeting of the semester this evening. One of the officers of the group was struggling (as most of us do) to find the best way to describe to newcomers the essential character of the organization, and what makes it different from other organizations. So, here's my unpremeditated rap:

The SKS is an organization that supports students in their spiritual seeking. "Spiritual seeking" is defined in the broadest possible sense, because we think the process of seeking has commonalities that transcend one's religion (or lack thereof) and culture. We believe that it is vitally important that people consciously identify their core beliefs and values, consciously test and evaluate those principles according to their own experience, and also consciously test and evaluate themselves in light of those principles. You could call the SKS "real-life philosophy": thinking about things that really matter to your own personal life.

Everybody has a philosophy of life. They might not be conscious of it, but everyone does have certain points of reference that they use to decide what's real, what's right, and how they should live their lives. That philosophy might be very simple, like: "Drink beer at every available opportunity," or "Do whatever everyone else is doing and hope that everything turns out all right." We think it's important to know what your real philosophy is, because if you don't make your decisions consciously and thoughtfully you will make them unconsciously and reactively, and our experience has generally shown that living your life unconsciously doesn't work very well. It tends to create lots of regrets.

In order to answer those kinds of big, universal questions, you often wind up addressing religious or spiritual questions: "Is there a God? Is there a soul? What happens after I die? Is there a purpose or destiny to my life?" We are not here to answer those questions for you. There are lots of places to go to have people tell you what to believe and how to live: most religious institutions will readily give you answers. We, however, are not in the answer business. We are in the question business. We think it is possible to take spiritual and religious questions seriously without telling you the answers. The SKS is has no official spiritual dogma or affiliation with any church, religion, or non-religion.

The SKS is not merely about ideas. It's not just a philosophy club, where people talk about things, and then they walk out the door, and that's it. We believe you have to apply your philosophy to your real life. Does the way you live your life make sense based on your philosophy? You need to reflect on your own life and your own actions, and figure out whether you are being true to your philosophy or not. In that sense, the SKS goes beyond philosophy discussion group and moves into psychological analysis: "Why do I say I believe this, and then do that?"

But the SKS doesn't stop at self-reflection, either. It also moves into the realm of action: "What can I do to change my life? How can I live better?" All that philosophizing is useless if it doesn't change the way you actually live.

For all these steps -- thinking about life, reflecting upon your own life, and consciously acting -- we've found that it helps a lot to have other people to work with. In every realm of human activity, people achieve their highest potential in a context of other people. Scientists, athletes, activists, writers . . . everybody uses other people to help. We think real-life philosophy is no different. You could try to do it on your own, but it's a lot easier when you have people with whom you can share ideas, trade strategies, and give and receive support. That's why we have this group.

The SKS is unique. There are very few places you can go to talk about such questions, and have an honest and candid real conversation. In most other organizations, you will only be met with an argument ("You're wrong, and here's why") or a treatment ("You're sick, let's fix you").



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