What Really Matters

What Really Matters

"There’s a tendency for us to think that to be a prophet or to do anything grand, you have to have a special gift, be someone called for. And I think ultimately what really matters is the resolve — to want to do it, to give your life to that which you consider important."

~ Enrique Martínez Celaya

The Way It Is

“My mother always said, ‘Billy’s never bored.’ All my life I’ve listened to the rain. I think it’s utterly mysterious. Every raindrop falls just once and you only hear it at the end of its fall. . . 

The comets burn out and the black holes disappear. There’s nothing good or bad about that. That’s the way it is. I don’t know where I come from and I don’t know where I’m going and it’s wonderful to be here.”

~ W.S. Merwin, from a conversation with Maggie Galehouse, Houston Chronicle, April 22, 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

Permission to Ask the Sort of Questions You Asked as Children

From Freakonomics: The Movie (2010):

"Our incentives, unlike everyone else's, are to be honest. Because we built our whole reputation on, If we're honest about this issue and we're honest about this other issue then people will believe us when we're asked about everything. The worst thing we could do—the only way we can ruin our repuation—would be to start taking sides and fight...we're this peculiar beast which actually has the right incentives to just seek the truth and not have an agenda. "

~ Steven D. Levitt

"I don't think anything we've ever written or thought is gonna save any lives, really, or make people smarter or better in any way, but we kind of give people permission to challenge conventional wisdom sometimes and to ask a different kind of question entirely. A lot of times the questions are the sort of questions that you asked as children and people kind of chuckled at you, but once in a while they turn out to be really good. The problem is that as you get older and you ask them as adults—like if you're in a meeting or with your friends or whatever—and they laugh at you hard, and you just stop asking those questions entirely. We just kind of keep doing it. We say, What if this thing everybody thinks is so really isn't os? or What if that didn't cause this? What if this caused it? I think that there just needs to be a lot more permission for people to think like that." 

~ Stephen J. Dubner

See also:

From Equilibrium through Interest to Concern

Excerpt from Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry by Stephen Dobyns:

We go to art for pleasure, distraction, sustenance, and the apprehension of felt life. We go to expand our moral experience of the world, to come into contact with the beautiful, which may in fact be ugly. We go to find something more perfect than ourselves, to find a graceful, dramatic, and/or unusual relation between the parts, whether colors, sounds, movements, words — the primary mediums of all the arts. We go to experience a particularly harmonious and organic structure, a certain evocativeness or emotional significance, a grouping of metaphors or allusions, and we go to art to engage with the manner of presentation. We go out of curiousity; we go to forget ourselves, become ourselves, move beyond ourselves. We go for knowledge. Most of these elements we need to find to a greater or lesser degree. One or two by themselves aren't enough.

When these elements work together, art has the ability to lead us out of our complacency and ask ourselves the question: How does one live? Art doesn't answer this question, but it pushes us toward it. As Checkhove wrote, art attempts to articulate a question exactly. How well it does this, how forcefully, how compellingly, and how well it unifies these elements and makes us care about them become our criteria for great art. And when a work of art, such as a poem, fails, it fails because some of these elements are missing or have been poorly realized...

Subject matter, as it develops from a nonverbal intuition into the slow joining of form and content, tries to fasten these elements together...Subject matter begins when something takes our attention, a word that derives from the Latin verb attendere, meaning to stretch toward, to give heed to. Before that, we may exist in a state of indifference, or stasis. For the early Greeks this was a person's natural state, and when he or she was disturbed, it happened because of the intervention of a function god — separate gods, of anger, fear, joy, desire, courage, ambition, grief, and so on — smaller dieties who were directed by the more significant Olympian gods such as Zeus, Hera, or Apollo. When a person was touched by a function god, he or she became animated; that is filled with breath. The disturbance moved that person from equilibrium through interest — which in Latin meant "to be between" — to a concern, which, again from Latin, for sifting, mixing together, and, by extension, scrutinizing or trying to comprehend...

Something takes our attention, whether from curiosity or from being hit over the head. At this point we might lapse back to equilibrium or move forward by attraction (or away through aversion). Clearly, if one is hit over the head, this process is very rapid, but so is the process of falling in love at first sight, or seeing an object that one wants to possess. Many concerns stay with us over long periods of time, even our entire lives. Our personalities are defined by those concerns.

The Wisdom of No Escape

"There's a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. You can see this even in insects and animals and birds. All of us are the same.

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what the world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is. If we're committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we're going to run; we'll never know what's beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing."

- Pema Chödrön, from The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness