As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day, I came across a quote that a family member of mine had written. At first glance, I was filled with a sadness for this person. Not in a pitying way, but a sort of compassion for the way that many can “wander through” this life without ever discovering joy. The quote goes as follows:
“I walk alone, wandering aimlessly into the depths of the forest. The path less taken; taken by those desperate few. I shudder from the inescapable cold. How much longer can I bear this helpless fate?”
Perhaps it is a decent piece of poetry which articulates the human person’s isolation from God, and the sobering reality that the world we live in is one that is filled with suffering. But I am near certain that this is not the context that the author intended. Somewhere in our upbringing, or in our educational conquest, we all encounter at some point the great questions in life: does God exist? who am I? what kind of person should I be? These questions (among others), tend to shape the way that we encounter the world we live in and the way in which we live our lives. So, how did we end up here at the “inescapable cold” and “this helpless fate?”
The goal of education is to help one to discover and understand the world around us. In a word, education helps us to encounter reality. The problem, or “risk,” of education (as the late Monsignor Giussani put it) is that the current system of education is often flawed because educators no longer teach from a perspective of tradition, but rather in an environment where it is up to the student to decide which path to follow. At first glance this may not seem like such a terrible idea. But the point that Giussani makes is that if education is left to the views of skepticism and pragmatism, the result is that of the blind leading the blind; if education does not seek a higher good, or universal truth, then our method of educating becomes skewed. If there is no way of verifying what we learn (whether it be through tradition, scientific evidence, history, etc.) then the student becomes lost, and “helpless.”
I disagree with my family member that the “path less taken” is that which the individual wanders through life, searching for some sort of desperate escape from reality. If you take a serious look around at the world in which we live in, this statement probably describes nearly 90% of the population. This mentality of helplessness and wandering through life, strives to equate the skeptic with a sense of nobility or bravery. I disagree with this belief. It doesn’t take much reflection or work to recognize the value of life and the value of your own personal life. I think anyone would agree with that. But why then is it so difficult to encounter reality? Why do we feel alone? What has our world come to?
I would like to challenge my readers to take some time and put away your smart phone, and go for a walk. Encounter the world that we live in. Feel the breeze, watch the trees sway in the wind, hear the birds singing songs. It doesn’t take long to realize that we are not, in fact, alone. I strongly agree with Walker Percy, in his essay Loss of the Creature, where he describes the path less taken as the sovereign knower—the one who does not simply go through life in a banal way, standing on the shoulders of those who have come before us, but rather, one who is courageous enough to search for the truth, to go out of the way to discover meaning.
Education certainly leaves us with a crisis (not in the sense that something has gone wrong, but etymologically speaking, that we must sift through what we know, and search for that which is true). Verification is that which leads us to knowledge. If we can begin to comprehend the world around us, then ultimately we will be on the right path. If our education leaves us feeling cold and alone in the dark, then it has failed us. But there is still hope! There is tremendous hope. We are not alone in this world. The lie of modernity is that we are a world of isolated individuals with our own cares and worries, which are unrelated to others. But this could not be any farther from the truth. We are all in this together, and many of us share these same worries and fears.
So I will leave you with these questions to ponder: what informs your truth? what informs your beliefs? is scientific fact the only thing that is true? or can we discover truth outside of science? I can’t scientifically prove that my mother loves me, but does that make it any less true? The beliefs of the atheist and the Christian are nearly the same. The difference is that the Christian places his/her belief in the verifiable fact that God became a human person, in history, was put to death, and was resurrected on the third day, so that we may be reconciled to God the Father, and have eternal life. Science can only go so far to “prove” this reality, but if we take a serious look at history, and God’s revelation to humanity, it doesn’t take long to realize that there is more to truth than science. How else could twelve ordinary men have forever changed the world in which we live in?