Saturday, April 10, 2010

Meeting a Beauty Greater than Desire

I heard Chris Bacich this past week speak about Luigi Giussani's book, The Risk of Education. One of the points he made was that people always need an explanatory hypothesis about everything in order to function. For example, nobody would get out of bed unless they had one. He said that for us the usual explanatory hypothesis is power: power is the meaning of everything. Power is the reason and motivation for everything that is done. And the way it works is this way: you have a dream so you develop the discipline to go out and get money which gives you the power to fulfill yourself. Forgive me for being fascinated by this but I grew up a bit stoic. When I was a teenager, the skin doctor asked if I wanted to clear up my skin and get rid of the acne and I just shrugged. When I got to college, a priest-counselor I knew asked me what my dream was, and I didn't have any answer for him. He gave me a task: go think and write in a notebook about what my dream or vision was for my life, which I did. He recommended a book on adolescent psych written by some friends of his. I remember it explained the same process listed above. At work, my boss recommends the same process to sales people.

The good news about power is its value as an explanatory hypothesis. It tells us what to do with desire, gives a reason to develop discipline, and it holds out a promise of fulfillment. But my life has demonstrated to me that power is not adequate. My desire is greater than any dream, greater than what I can dream or envision. I can definitely envision something and then obtain it but because my desire is greater, I remain unsatisfied. Success (which depends partly on fortune) is not enough, and as Chris pointed out: the tabloids proclaim that fame is not enough either. If I decide that desire is ultimately futile, then I can become a stoic or a Buddhist. The other possibility is if there is something that corresponds to my desire, something ever greater.

Desire starts with tangible beauty, something that strikes me in my circumstances and brings out desire: a mountain, a beautiful pen, a car, a girl, a job. In embracing this desire, I form a plan, a dream, a vision. And then I begin walking. Satisfaction does not come from successfully achieving my dreams, but from something greater that comes to meet me.
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