Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Perspective and meaning

This week, in the course on innovation and creativity, we talked about meaning, which is the sixth of Daniel Pink's essential aptitudes for success and fulfillment.  Viktor Frankl's work was used to introduce the final chapter:
The search for meaning is a drive that exists in all of us--and a combination of external circumstances and internal will can bring it to the surface.
I found myself wondering during our in-class discussion about the role of age on ones perspective about meaning...what it is, what it's worth, and why it matters.

I read Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning when I was about the age my students are now.  I was deeply touched by one man's ability to find meaning in the midst of suffering and loss.  The images I created while reading have stayed with me, in one form or another, informed to some degree by a visit to Dachau when I was an adolescent.  But the lifetime--one full of learning, loss, love, and laughter--between the adolescent I was and the adult I am has imbued the concept of meaning with shades and textures that may only come with living.

About the time I read Frankl's book, I also read The Phantom Tollbooth, a delight of allegory and word play.  One of the many snippets of the book that have inexplicably remained with me is the little boy whose feet don't touch the ground.  He explains that people in his family are born where their head will be in adulthood, and their feet grow down, to avoid the pesky problem of having ones perspective change as one grows.  This is, of course, delightful nonsense...but thought-provoking, delightful nonsense.

Our perspective does, of course, change as we grow, whether measured on a height chart or by some less tangible method.  The places we remember as grand are often small; the skills we struggled to acquire have the ease of habit.  We've grown and our perspective has grown with us.

Daniel Pink and I are age cohorts, which may help to explain my resonance with his assertions that we need to take our spirituality and our happiness seriously.  I wonder if my students recognize that many of their actions are mortgaging the meaningful and fleeting moments in their lives for the possibility of future gains.  I also wonder if I'm walking in the footsteps of my own teachers.

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