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Life Lessons

Like many humans, I have spent a portion of my life grappling with the lurking uncertainty about the meaning of my existence, always framed, and usually catalyzed by forces that surround me. Said another way, I ask the question but seem to do so only when life presents a stimulus for the inquiry.  These are often fractured or noisy stimuli, bereft of common sense or clarity.  I suspect that I will not accept the answers I independently generate.  So, I go searching.


Philosophers and wisdom systems, gurus and spiritual visionaries, belief systems and science…I welcome any force willing to help with the challenge: Why do I exist? What is the meaning of my existence? A part of me harbors the hope that if there is a good reason for my existence, I will rise up equal to the rationale.  At some level, I would like to be “good” rather than “evil”, I would like my presence on planet earth to conclude with a generally positive appraisal.  I have noticed many people secretly mirror these same desires, though few talk about them.


Having field tested a whole raft of answers to my question, it has seemed to me that some have more popular acceptance than others. One very common one is that we are here to enjoy life, to experience planet earth in a spirit of pleasure.  Anyone raised in any of the midwestern states in the US knows this rationale will get challenged by all sorts of cultural norms. I was born in Iowa. Another is a bit of “who cares?”; just do whatever you want.  This too would make most midwestern parents blanche. The pervasive response of the science community fascinates me because of its habituation to certitude; I know enough to be suspicious.


The one that has become a companion in my pondering and wandering the earth is quite simple: I am here to learn lessons.  I am unable to explain why this one prevails for me, however it does. Perhaps because I am an educator from an extensive tribe of educators, I even understand this one. I know about preparation, paying attention, taking notes, doing homework, passing tests, and even graduating. I also know about trips to the principal’s office and shenanigans on the playground during recess.


I just celebrated another birthday, which always activates this question and a concurrent retrospective.  I realized that I can affirm that I have acquired an impressive array of life lessons, by my standards. Most no one knows about but me, which is fine with me, and most are things I value deeply.  Thinking about these lessons, I found myself linking this insight to another, the conviction I have that everything is connected.  I had never asked these two “beliefs” to hang out together, to have a conversation with one another.


Startling Experience!  Here is what emerged. If everything is connected, then I am connected to a whole raft of humans I do not wish to be connected to, but lack an option. I am not in charge of the connections. I have always struggled with this, since I have spent over 35 years working with humans to find more creative ways to experience their conflicts, and this is part of the puzzle.  When you are working with creative conflict and someone in the situation is locked into a commitment to destructive conflict…you get the picture.


Enter Life Lessons.  Now I already know that this sounds a bit irreverent, but there is a useful image lurking here.  If I am here to learn life lessons, if you are here to learn life lessons, if we all are here to learn life lessons, then I have an option. Rather than become reactive to others whose beliefs, behavior or badgering drive me bonkers, what if I simply see them as individuals working on a specific life lesson.  What if I become the observer of the student, rather than the judge.  What if I become curious about the lesson.


Now it becomes clear that there are some fun moments lurking in my creative imagination.  Here are some sample life lessons, emergent from my observations about others, that I have created out of whole cloth simply for their entertainment value.  Learning to repeat the same error often enough that it starts to look ill advised.  Learning to hang on to a prejudice long enough to evoke ridicule (or a fine, or imprisonment). Learning that systematic greed can conclude in a sense of emptiness and vacuousness. Learning how to feel shame.  Learning that power is an empty rattle that erodes over time. Learning that cruelty harms all involved, especially the one being cruel. Learning that ridicule always comes full circle.  Learning that, in the end, we all die.


Though I clearly find this activity useful for my navigation on planet earth, I am not recommending it to others.  We all have to find our own answers. I do think this program of observing “life lessons”, is a better option than judging, carping, hating, attacking, or other equally unfriendly actions directed at those who differ from oneself.  Humor always breaks through the chains of righteousness; you have to want the humor more than you want the righteousness.


I am here to accumulate life lessons.  One I learned is that because everything is connected, I can purposefully observe others engaged in the same process, accumulating life lessons.  Life lessons are not always lovely.  Getting comfortable with the variances in life lessons makes more sense than forgetting these other humans are bumbling about just as much as I am. Observing the collective effort at life lessons with a light touch is useful. And once you accept that this whole thing is a bunch of life lessons, you can relax a bit, do your homework and then read a book or watch a movie.


“Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.”


- Arthur Schopenhauer-

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