I have always resisted labels. I have chosen to be an iconoclast for most of my adult life. Labels allow you to be easily judged, unceremoniously dismissed, or thoughtlessly respected. Not only that, but whenever I’ve subscribed to an easy way of explaining something complex, it never seems to be wholly accurate. Then I end up looking like I don’t know what I’m talking about, or that I change my mind a lot. For example, ninety percent of the time I can accurately describe myself as a vegan. However, I like pizza, and I like cheese on my pizza. I eat pizza probably twice a month. Technically, then, I’m not a vegan.
Is it even possible to be something all the time? Now that I think about it: I’m not sure I’d want to be something all of the time. Many of us Americans like absolutes; you either are something, or you aren’t. Easy. Comfortable. Predictable. I remember my brother asking me about my religious beliefs one time, and I told him that I wasn’t sure. “Well,” he replied, as if advising me to come to terms, “we’ll have to have a talk about that sometime.” We never have, though now I’m a bit more secure in what I’d have to say on that subject.
I’ve noticed that with age often comes ossification. That is, the older we get, the less likely we are entertain new ideas, especially ones that seem to question those we’ve already figured out, especially in a meaning-of-life way. By the time our hair turns gray, shouldn’t we have a pretty good idea about what works for us? What foods we like? What we believe and value? Where we are comfortable and with whom? We should be secure both materially and psychically, no? There is something to be said about gray heads: they’ve made it this far. Perhaps there is some wisdom there? Yet, my hair’s been gray since my twenties — a time that I do not associate with any personal sagacity. My hair is grayer now, but am I any wiser?
I think that the foundation of wisdom for me lies in my ability to embrace that which I do not know. To revel in it. Part of my experience is the realization of how much more there is that I don’t know. It’s almost a cliché, but the more I live and learn the more I realize how much more there is I don’t know or understand. It’s humbling, and it’s supposed to be.
Isn’t it the height of arrogance to suppose ourselves complete? That we have it all figured out? I know we want to have it all figured out, but I’ve never met anyone who has, though plenty who think they have. This very drive is at the foundation of human progress: the desire to understand it all, including our own place in the universe.
That said, I know there are those who claim to have it all figured out. I guess these folks are the ones who have inspired me, and I should thank them. They provide me models for how not to act.
So, I guess what I’m going to write in this entry and subsequent ones labeled “Being,” is that they are accurate at the time of writing. This is where I’ve come in the first four decades of my life. It is an intellectual exercise. I preform it publicly in the hopes that it might provoke discussion among my friends and that I might grow as a result. However, I must warn those who think they can figure me out based on these labels that they do so at their own risk. Remember, definitions give us guidelines for relative processes. They are not commandments, to be thoughtlessly and absolutely followed. In other words: I can change my mind at anytime.
Over the next couple of weeks leading up to the new year, I plan to discuss education, morality, religion, politics, food, exercise, and whatever else I find integral to my life at this time — you know: those things I think about while running. I will take requests, if anyone is remotely interested.