Friday, November 07, 2003

The Choice of Purpose

The Choice of Purpose

Everyone's mood is buoyant on a Friday. People come in casuals, they plan for a good lunch at some place nice, and they also take the opportunity during lunchtime to browse through the video stalls and stock up their supply of bootleg DVDs for the weekend. The young and energetic would make plans to go clubbing for the night.

We would come back on Monday, "recharged" from our hangovers and our hours of vegetating in front of the TV. Another week in office begins and the cycle repeats itself. And ocassionally we would make the philosophical comment about how fast time flies.

I have written in a previous entry about how time appears to fly mainly because our lives are monotonous--we repeat our routines day in day out, week in week out. There is no differentiation between one day and another--no peaks and valleys from which we could mark time with. Everything collapses into a flat expanse of dullness and monotony.

But a monotonous life can be a happy one too. Monks live lives filled with strict rituals and routines. I suppose they are happy. A monotonous life is also stress-free life. No one should complain about that.

Some of us thrive on challenges. We want a cause to fight for, without which we feel our lives aimless. A purposeful life with challenges propels a person forward and makes him or her grow.

A magnet generates a force field around itself, aligning iron fillings sprinkled on a piece of paper held above it in a pattern dictated by its invisible lines of force. Every iron particle suddenly has a "purpose". Remove the magnet, the pattern falls apart with the slightest jerk of the paper.

Even when our lives are seemingly filled with rituals and routines, we can still inject a healthy sense of purpose into it. Our challenges need not necessarily be physical ones--it can also be psychological or mental. Challenging yourself to stop smoking is an example. When we have a purpose, all our actions are aligned towards one direction. Without it, our lives disintegrates into randomness.

Emmanuel Kant, the great German philosopher was a creature of routine too. Neighbours set their clocks by the regularity of his daily activities. He was born in K?ningsberg, Prussia and never left the place in his entire life.

One would think that the life of this nerdy scholar must have been very dull. And to the average reader, his monumental work, Critique of Pure Reason would also make very dull reading.

But the Critique of Pure Reason is considered one of the greatest works of philosophy--an edifice of human understanding from which subsequent generations of philosophers and thinkers were able to build their works upon.

We don't need to be an Everest mountaineer or a freedom fighter to have a sense of purpose in life. Even within the seeming dullness of our mundane lives, we are still capable of engineering greatness. A piece of white canvas can be turned into a filthy rag or a masterpiece painting, depending on what we do with it. The choice is ours.

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