What’s Your ‘Big Question’?

 

Bruno Torfs
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?

Category: Let-Self-Change

This entry was posted in Preparing for Civilization's End. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to What’s Your ‘Big Question’?

  1. Amanda says:

    You have the question in mind, and kind of, the answer too. And I don’t think that’s the way to go about answering questions. It’s as if you’re searching for the answer you want. If you ask someone if what color the sky is and they say blue, but you ardently believe it’s yellow, do you going to keep looking for someone to tell you it’s the color you want to it to be? What if the answer you find to whatever question you have isn’t the one you wanted to hear? Do you accept it or keep looking for the answer you want? I don’t know… Sometimes you have to compromise, cut your loses, and make do with what you’re given. Maybe you’ll find answers you never knew were possible… Post Script: I’ll try to get back to you about My Big Question… provided I have one at this juncture. Ditto with what I’d want my obit to read–I haven’t forgotten about that. Till soon, Dave. Take care.

  2. Daisy Bond says:

    Mine is, appropriately enough for this venue: How do we save the world? Put in others ways, the question is also: How do I forgive myself for all my failings? How do I treat myself and others with compassion? How do I turn love from a feeling to a way of being, a way of doing, such that in everything I do I could say that I am loving?I already know the answer to these questions, but I don’t know how to apply it fully yet. I think I’ll post about it in a little while.Also: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 you are confused here.Have you found one person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life living, making a living? If so, I think you are very blessed. If you have found more than one — as I have — then I think your blessing is incredible. Your blessing is unprecedented.Do not worry if you haven’t found enough soulmates to run a village. How could you? What person is lucky enough to have found hundreds of life-partners?Find one, or two, or several. That is enough. The community will not orbit you, your feelings, your loves. If you love on or two people, you can be certain they each love one or two more, and those people also love a few more. And in that way, enough people will come together.

  3. Paul says:

    I don’t believe my life has a purpose for me to achieve. Life isn’t a contest, or a project, or a machine that is designed with some aim in mind. We often like to think of it that way, because that gives us some feeling of value or belonging. I am fulfilling God’s plan, or I am saving the world, or I am being the best father I can be, or I am on the winning team.So if I have (or ought to have?) a Big Question, it’s not about finding my purpose. Hmm, what is it?I don’t think it’s “Where do I belong?” Perhaps it’s more like “What am I learning about myself and the world? Am I moving beyond mere conditioned responses, cravings and fears? Are my attitudes and behaviors re-creating this crazy world, or transforming it into something more harmonious?”Perhaps my Big Question is more about being, and yours is more about doing. I share your vision of the sorts of social relations that may be needed for harmonious living–for “sustainability” (harmony on a large scale, in Gaia) and “love” (harmony on a small scale, in personal relations)–but I don’t think I can match your passion for doing something to animate the vision. Building an intentional community from scratch, from a set of ideals or wishes about HOW to live rather than from WHAT to produce. You have made a tough demand for action on yourself.More power to you! I hope I can support you or join you in the struggle.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Seeking purpose – intention – action – saving the world – saving oneself – doing – being – producing – consuming – loving – being loved – serving others – serving yourself – every one of these has ONE driving motivation – the one and only – wanting to feel good about yourself!Humans are parasites on “Gaia” our impact is devastating despite what we think we can do to save it. We know we are parasites in our deepest being and so we have incurable existential despair which will only be overcome by ceasing to exist. Many of us find distractions/delusions that make us “happy” and “content” and “purposeful” and yes even “good” but the existential despair is always lurking never gone.However – “Gaia” is but a speck of dirt in the cosmos – plenty more where “it” came from. The take away message – live with abandon in the moment – don’t fight it so much. Every one of us is the center of our own world but are not much to even the person or persons we consider to be “in” our lives.

  5. Mike says:

    The “big questions” we are asking may still be too small to deal with the required solutions. Many of us only go so far with our questions, and address only what is within a small defined sphere. Most people aren’t ready to seriously question the events of 911, even though deep down we know that something is not right with the official story. We convince ourselves that the way to have power is to vote, without posing the question “Do we really live in a democracy?”. We assume that leaders, while ineffective, still have a conscience like the rest of us. Others won’t question their goals of aquiring money and stuff, or the true power of the media to shape our minds to benefit the ultra-rich of the world. While we putter around trying to solve the small problems of our lives, the much bigger issues go unresolved. My “big question” is how can we put a stop to the people who have very successfully set out to steer the world to their own benefit at the expense of the rest of us. How can we get over our fears? I think everyone should watch the movie “V for Vendetta” to truly understand the problems we are faced with.

  6. I have two – the overarching impoersonal one of how are we going to get out of the environmental mess we’re making for ourselves? and the personal one of just what is the job that would give me a feeling of worth and satisfaction? Outside of work, I’m very happy with where I am but work has always been a let down for me.

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Amanda: I think this is very wise. I’m not at all sure, though, that I know the answer to “Where Do I Belong?” I don’t know what place, or as part of what community. All I really know is where I *don’t* belong. You may be right about compromise, but I have never had to, so this may be a lesson I’ve yet to learn. My crazy idealism is intact. I look forward to hearing *your* question :-)

  8. Dave Pollard says:

    Daisy: I look forward to your post on this. I can’t expect to be everything to anyone, or for anyone to be everything to me. That’s why I think I need to start with a community, at least a small one. But these days I’m not sure about anything. I’m open to all possibilities.

  9. Dave Pollard says:

    Paul: This being/doing dichotomy keeps cropping up. I think you have to decide/know who you are before you can know what you should do, but to some extent you can’t know who you are until you’ve done something, lots of things. It’s a matter of balancing the two, perhaps. Thanks for the comment.

  10. Dave Pollard says:

    Anonymous: Yes, happiness and feeling good about yourself are good motivators. And I like the term “existential despair” — thank you.

  11. Dave Pollard says:

    Mike: I think you’re setting yourself an impossible task.Poet: Maybe the challenge for you is learning what other jobs/careers are out there that would have more meaning for you.

Comments are closed.