What All Human Beings Want

Some years ago I enrolled in a comedy sketch writing program.  I had long suspected (and, of course, everyone else already knew) that comedy was intimately, intrinsically connected with some sort of “higher” way of living.  Like court jesters and Zen masters, comedians saw things the rest of us didn’t – and they wanted to let us in on the joke.  The writing program confirmed that suspicion.

The program instructors reminded me of those Zen masters.  One of them told us that, at bottom, there are four things all human beings want:  to be seen (acknowledged, recognized); to be heard (making one’s “voice” or point of view known); to be touched (that emotional connection); and to be loved (what children look for from their parents, why we have friends, spouses, that sort of thing).

I’m not sure anyone saw me or heard me until seminary high school.  In my sophomore year I got my first indication that I might be good at writing.  I wrote some essay for an English class, maybe five hundred words about how alone I felt, how angry and frustrated I would get, how I never felt like I mattered anything to anyone.  My teacher was a teacher in the best sense – he taught me how to write, but he also cared enough about the person writing it.  He made me feel like I was worth a damn.

About six years ago, a few months shy of his 70th birthday, this wonderful teacher passed away.  I cried when I got the news; I hadn’t spoken with him for at least twenty plus years.  But I’ll never forget the kindness and generosity he gave to a kid who, back then, didn’t think he had a friend in the world.

I’ve wanted to do for curious minds what Fr. Hawk did for me so many years ago:  bringing what I love to the classroom and helping people learn how to think (NOT “what” to think).  With any luck, my students might come to see in themselves a passion they can’t live without, something that shows them they matter, as well as know that they are more than good enough to enjoy everything this world has to offer.

Is An Examined Life Worth Living?

Those of us who love philosophy cannot help but wonder, at least once in a while, whether philosophy is relevant, even necessary, to live today. But we may be blinded by our love of the discipline—to the contemporary world’s eyes, philosophy is at best a plain, dull, and uninviting subject.

It seems there isn’t anything our contemporary world cannot do better or with greater satisfaction in spheres of human activity than philosophical reflection. When the goal of human action is “results,” like those we expect of science, or art, or commerce, philosophy pales by comparison.

We might want to argue for the claim that philosophy’s only value, the only reason why anyone should spend extended amounts of time and energy with it, are the practical benefits its students can bring to a shop-weary world.

While most folks may not have any formal, “professional” acquaintance with the discipline, they do have a natural preponderance for reflecting upon the ordinary, everyday world. That is, upon their ordinary, everyday worlds. When academics try to remind us how much better our lives would be if only we would set just aside a few tasks that are not nearly as important as the life of the mind, we shrug and tell them they don’t have a clue what the “real world” is about.

Humans have a natural inclination to ask why. If we can do that at our leisure, in the small, quiet moments that give us a chance to put together the stories of our lives, we are (for lack of a better word) happy. Academics annoy the rest of us when they refuse to recognize that: 1) in the great curriculum of life, philosophy is an elective, not a required course; and 2) we already examine and critique our lives, we don’t want or need your “help,” thank you very much.