Image: Sculpture by Bruno Torfs from Sculpture Garden, Marysville, Australia.
(posted from Australia)
Edge magazine and several others have run articles on leading thinkers’ ‘Big Ideas’ — the revelation, the emergent understanding, the ‘aha! moment’ that has most provoked, inspired or changed them. I am not sure I have had any Big Ideas, just a few Miniature Truths.
But today we live in an age of such uncertainty, a world where our understanding is so tenuous and constantly evolving, that I think it is more interesting to learn what people’s Big Questions are. Your Big Question is the issue, doubt, problem or struggle that keeps you awake at night because you know you are still a long way from resolving it, and without doing so you cannot achieve your life’s purpose.
What interests me are the commonalities, patterns and collective approaches to dealing with these Big Questions. So lately I’ve been asking the people I meet what their Big Question is. I’ve found great similarities between the Big Questions of Canadians, Americans, and now Australians. But surprisingly, I’ve found signifiant differences between the Big Questions of men and women. Men’s seem to be more idealistic and conceptual, women’s more specific, practical and particular.
Recently I have been struggling with Big Questions of how to make better use of my time, of whether and how Intentional Communities can work and become models that are replicated, of whether and how I can love many people in ways that are useful and fulfilling to all of us (rather than constantly letting others down), and of how to live simpler. These big questions are, of course, all interrelated: Loving many people requires effective use of time, and is perhaps only possible in communities where they are all constantly close at hand. And living simpler probably also requires living in community.
So maybe the underlying Big Question for me is: Where Do I Belong? To what physical place, to what community, to what way of living and making a living? The biggest challenge with such a question is whether it is even possible to answer that personally, individually, intentionally — or whether such awareness, such discovery needs to emerge, evolve, collectively, with that of others, such that we (we the creatures in those places, the humans in search of their belonging, the communities-in-forming, the enterprises waiting to evolve in response to deep unmet needs) together, must discover them?
Several of the men I have spoken to recently have identified their Big Question as some variation of: Am I Doing This Right? In other words, is the process they are using to accomplish what they know they are intended to do, the right process, the best way of achieving it?
I confess I am much less sure that I know what I am intended to do, so I am not yet ready to acknowledge this as my Big Question.
The women I have spoken to recently have mostly said they don’t really have a Big Question, but rather a few or a host of specific, personal questions. What might this reflect: pragmatism, practicality, or resignation, unwarranted modesty?
They say that knowing the real question is half way to finding the answer. But if Where Do I Belong? is my Big Question, it leaves me bewilderingly unaware of what the answer might be, or even how to start down the path towards discovering it. Although I’m blogging from Australia on a trip that is half business, half personal, I have no great passion to start searching the world for the answer, as Liz Gilbert does in Eat Pray Love.
The number of people I love is substantial, but the number I have discovered who I know I would want to spend the rest of my life living with and making a living with is tiny, and not sufficient for a sustainable community or even a sustainable enterprise. Where does one start to find where one belongs, if it is not looking for the place that is, intuitively and unquestionably, home? And if, from over 2000 people whose company I’ve discovered I enjoy immensely I cannot assemble enough to make a sustainable community, even I could convince them all to come and share my home, or create an enterprise with me?
I think what makes discovery of one’s purpose so hard in our modern culture is that there are so many people, so many places, so many options and choices. In indigenous communities the choices were limited, but somehow, my instincts tell me, their members were vastly happier.
Perhaps I am too demanding of others, and of myself. That’s not uncommon among hopeless idealists. I remain a believer in intentional community and in a polyamorous lifestyle, though I am doubtful either is realistically viable. But I have no Plan B. The one positive is that, more than any time in my adult life, I am open to possibility. The life I am intended to live, and the place where I belong, are out there, waiting to be discovered.
Enough about my Big Question. What is yours? What is the issue, doubt, problem or struggle that keeps you awake at night because you know you are still a long way from resolving it, and without doing so you cannot achieve your life’s purpose?