Issue #252 / September 2023
I am 20, high school graduant, in my gap-year and I find it pointless to pursue anything in this bizarre and temporary world that is so much against my values in every way possible. I believe I am speaking for a generation here. I am asking with the biggest admiration, what would you do in my/our situation?
EL, FRANKFURT, GERMANY
You are right in describing the world as ‘bizarre and temporary’ – it is indeed a strange and deeply mysterious place, forever changing and remaking itself anew. But this is not a novel condition, our world hasn’t only recently become bizarre and temporary, it has been so ever since its inception, and it will continue to be such until its end – mystifying and forever in a state of flux.
The same can be said for our values, they too can be temporary and exist in a state of flux. If my experience is anything to go by, the values that you hold sacred now may change and be considerably different to those you hold dear in ten years’ time – and be almost unrecognisable when compared to those you possess when you reach your later years. You may also find that some of the values that you perceive now as incontestable truths will be looked at with suspicion, even contempt, by the generations that come after you – a humbling realisation if ever there was one. In the past, for example, an older person giving advice to someone younger was a trusted value for all, but in the present age it is sometimes viewed in a different light altogether.
Still, El, you did ask and so to the question! – what you and your generation can do in order to live fulfilling lives in a bizarre and temporary world that does not share your values. Well, I would not suggest for a moment that you change those values, because even though values evolve and grow, they are at any given time a crucial part of our nature and critical to the development of the world. My suggestion would be to instead look to two qualities that will improve your life immeasurably.
The first is humility. Humility amounts to an understanding that the world is not divided into good and bad people, but rather it is made up of all manner of individuals, each broken in their own way, each caught up in the common human struggle and each having the capacity to do both terrible and beautiful things. If we truly comprehend and acknowledge that we are all imperfect creatures, we find that we become more tolerant and accepting of others’ shortcomings and the world appears less dissonant, less isolating, less threatening.
The other quality is curiosity. If we look with curiosity at people who do not share our values, they become interesting rather than threatening. As I’ve grown older I’ve learnt that the world and the people in it are surprisingly interesting, and that the more you look and listen, the more interesting they become. Cultivating a questioning mind, of which conversation is the chief instrument, enriches our relationship with the world. Having a conversation with someone I may disagree with is, I have come to find, a great, life embracing pleasure.
El, my advice, then, is to try to make more use of humility and curiosity – these attributes have a softening effect on our sometimes inflexible and isolating value systems. They allow us to remain true to our temporary selves but fluid and playful in our dealings with this strange and ever-changing world.