Yesterday evening, I was working away at my desk, prepping for my Thursday evening internet radio program, when up pops an e-mail announcing that I had been befriended by someone over at BlogCatalog.com. Curious (I have few friends over there, since I’m a recent member), I stopped by to view that person’s work. For the brief time I spend looking over the massive extent of the writings I found there (and you thought my articles were long!), I couldn’t help also being struck by the incredible waste of a life it represented. It’s not so much that I was appalled by the fact that the author was spending so much time and energy creating this vast acreage of text, but by the fact that there, before me, was a life being thrown away pissing into the wind.
The writings purported to portray five ‘elements’ of Truth (apparently heretofore hidden) that would transform the thinking of the world. Nobody could doubt this author’s sincerity nor the energy and dedication that went into producing these prodigious postings. What was staggering — in my mind, at least — was that someone would spend that much time and energy expounding on stuff that he or she knew so little about. Personally, I’m not in a position to dictate the Ultimate Truth to anyone (although we can have a really spirited conversation about whether or not Ultimate Truth exists — I’ll take the negative side). However I have spent many years of my life studying in excruciating detail the life work of many of the Western world’s foremost thinkers in philosophy, theology and other scientific disciplines. I have two sets of ‘MA’ after my name to prove it. The greatest revelation to me, over the course of over forty years of such study, remains the vast extent of what I don’t know.
The reasons why I don’t know all that I don’t know derive from the nature of me as a person and the nature of the universe as it exists. Not only am I not able to wrap my mind completely around the entirety of all that exists, I must — if I’m wise — take into account the creative force of my mind: I see only what I want to see, and all that I want to see. To try extract the creative force of my knowing from the dialog that I’m continually carrying out with all that I know would be like trying to extract my ear from sound or my eye from sight. Wise people take seriously that corollary of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle that suggests that the observer changes the observation (and that therefore all knowledge and understanding is therefore a never-ending conversation). It never ceases to amaze me the hubris — the sheer arrogance — of people who have never sat humbly at the feet of the world’s greatest minds, inviting these men and women to guide them virtually into the dark recesses of the mysteries of the universe, of the human intellect, of our collective understanding of God, and yet who pretend to be qualified to speak to others about Truth.
One day, many years ago, after listening to a particularly uninspiring guest lecture at the Philosophy faculty at the University of Ottawa by a very young author and media theorist (a follower of Marshall McLuhan), I heard one of the professors from the faculty quip to another, “It’s finally happened: I’ve encountered someone who’s written more than he’s read!” Yet, almost everything in our educational system supports the breeding of such pretense. The Academia in ancient Greece wasn’t a lecture hall: it was a garden setting where wise men and check here their students carried on highly-spirited dialogues. The minds of the followers were finely honed by constantly being intellectually challenged by their teachers. Only when the student was ready would the teacher appear. It can be really disconcerting — if not downright scary — to find pompous, intellectually bankrupt windbags pontificating from whatever podia the social media can provide.
OK. What does all this have to do with midlife? Here it is: the same arrogance that allows a person to assume that he or bluestacks head soccer hack she can handle the truth without any particular preparation (like becoming immersed in the collected knowledge and wisdom of the world), also empowers people to insist that they (and they alone) can handle their own lives, their own decisions, their own destinies, without regard to or help from anyone else. Hubris makes a man the measure of all things. And, just as my poor ‘friend’ on BlogCatalog has invested untold hours in conceiving, working out and publishing his or her ‘elements’ of ultimate ‘truth’ (with no discernible background in anything at all), so do men (and women) at midlife so often throw their all into courses of action that (outside of their own limited and biased perspective) make absolutely no practical sense at all. Even worse, such brash arrogance very often spawns a raft of devoted (but equally-unsophisticated) followers.
Does it make any difference whether or not these non-starting ideas and these dead-end decisions actually lead to catastrophic results? No, not at all: not when you consider the value of a human life. When you’ve executed bad judgment or made a bad decision (and invited others to follow your lead), whether you’ve wasted an hour, a week, a month, or a year comes down to only a matter of degree. When does wasting your life become wasting too much? Isn’t wasting any of your life wasting too much? You cannot effectively manage your life, and you cannot successfully navigate your way through the midlife transition without stepping down from your self-determined status of competency and sitting hungry shark world cheats tool down here in the dust among the rest of us peons who just might have experienced your trials ourselves and who just might have some nuggets of wisdom to share with you — if you’ll let us. And that means having the humility (and the decency) to tell us truthfully who you really are. Yes, I mean really.
Knowing your true place in the universe down into your very bones (what the Psalmist calls ‘Fear of the Lord’) is the beginning of wisdom. Everything else is arrogant, self-destructive nonsense.
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