“Medicine, Law, Business, Engineering – these are all noble pursuits and are necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for”. – Keating
It isn’t often that a writer such as myself with an obnoxiously purist and naive ‘holier than you’ attitude to writing decides to abandon ship, letting the first impression I have on a reader be the testimony of another man’s greatness. Despite being a writing instrument overused in humdrum schoolboy speeches bleated in monotonous intonation, sometimes even I concede. Concede, as I look in awe, encompassed by a powerful silence in which, with sheer elegance and beauty, mere words transform into a construct of considerable proportions, in whose shadow, we at a point in time, dissolve, the insignificant minutiae of our lives, resolved.
Also, since this written piece is unabashed commensalism of a brilliant creative invention, why be coy? Not that critique is a worthless effort. Unlike the “no offense but,…”, there is a blatant difference between the work of a critic and my humble gibberish. Getting back on track, the 1989 movie “Dead Poets Society” is a cinematic masterpiece, bringing to life the temporally universal themes of realistic romanticism through masterful performances by Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and others. What makes Dead Poets Society so good is that, unlike most coming-of-age movies, it is an example of the cinematic form perfectly utilized, clearing to a great extent the gap between passed down wisdom and hard-earned experience. Director-Scriptwriter Tom Schulman sidesteps the debate amongst academics in fairyland; the story is not a black-and-white essay favoring warm-blooded passion over icy rigid logic – adjectives these ‘scientists’ with their crazy hair and ‘lawyers’ with their cold stares could not fathom adjoining in the context these near utopia-dwelling people use them in. Neither is it a gray portrayal, a perfectly executed two-hour-long tightrope walk, attempting to balance opposites in ying-yang fashion. Instead, it is a sincere request to the adolescent, a simple message fundamental to this period of life; Be yourself.
What does it mean to be oneself? The statement, like any other, is open to inspection using methods too abundant in number to count. Getting to the point, being oneself is becoming the best version of you through appreciable developable traits that can be likened to hard work and perseverance and pursuing goals that, taking into consideration your circumstances, are motivated by the right reasons. Now how would one go about being themselves? That is, without again delving into the realm of philosophy, wherein we would deal with the complex notions borne of minds of the likes of Schopenhauer, Rumi, or Confucius and without simply slapping on bumper sticker slogans that read “God is Good”? I propose two simple ideas – Curiosity and writing.
“Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back” is a well-known maxim. Maybe not the part about resurrection, but it does have a nice ring to it. To the human condition, curiosity is fundamental. A species that resembled us in every way but lacked our curious nature would never have evolved to the level of sophistication we now possess. It has always been the inquisitive nature of scientists, adventurers, traders, and the faithful of other professions that have led us to where we are. We need not be geniuses to understand that the modern marvels of cars, light bulbs, medicines, books, and much more are the products of the urge to prod and pick. However, aided by the luxuries afforded to us by the toil of our forefathers, we are slaves to the machines we build, having failed to heed the warnings of an entire league of science fiction authors sparsed around in one hundred fifty years of history. A dreary sight it is, that of people living their lives enamored in a cocoon of instant gratification. But at this juncture, I must rein in my pen and remain tight-lipped because we do not need to descend into this rabbit hole of a discussion. The importance of being curious is thus unquestionable. The interrogative now is becoming so. A simple search on the internet yields thousands of results. A tad bit much for the half-hearted surveyor, I suppose. To summarise, for those of you who desire to instill that childlike wonder and fascination, albeit to a more calm tempo, here are a few suggestions from the internet mixed in with some wisdom of my own:
- Read: A way to get curious is to be that kid fixated on that shiny object. Read books. Exposing oneself to new ideas and information is critical to self-development and sheltering the spark of curiosity.
- Take your eyes off the screen: Spend less time on electronic screens. Look at your surroundings. Something is sure to catch your eye.
- Have meaningful conversations: Converse with people about ideas. Talk with your elders about the past and ask them how various events have shaped up the world we live in today. Teach young people. It is sometimes shocking how insightful a young mind can be. The meeting of two minds is indeed a significant collision, where none are left unscathed.
- Travel: Wanderlust and curiosity are brothers if not two sides of the same coin. Explore freely without setting up boundaries. Don’t fret if you cannot visit new places, for the mind has a beautiful, byzantine map.
“Now, language was developed for one endeavor, and that is? Mr. Anderson?” “Uh, to communicate?” “No! To woo women” – Keating.
Ah, the romantic John Keating. While the accuracy of the Welton English teacher’s statements is debatable, there are elements of universal truth to his beliefs. We thus turn to examine, in finer detail, the second of my suggested methods of self-discovery – writing. To write is to think. The art of writing has evolved throughout history, its various shapes and forms driven by economic factors. Yet we are graced, once in a while by timeless masterpieces thoroughly exploring the human condition with a scalpel of unnatural sharpness, motivated by the extreme conditions that pushed their authors to the brink, giving them a deeper understanding of themselves. The grandeur of these heights does not serve the purpose of intimidation, but rather it is intended to inspire people by showing them the power of the mighty pen. There is no rush to write the next great piece of literature. The form of writing that suits our purposes and would be prudent to suggest to a general audience is maintaining a journal. Before you groan and mumble complaints, let me elaborate – a journal serves as a physical playground for your mind. Write whatever idiotic thoughts come to mind. Dredge the mundane events of your life and record them. Play around, fiddle with your pen, and doodle – a lot. The journal you fill allows you to look into your past self and is a tool for introspection. You can see as though with a time machine how you have changed throughout the period you have maintained a journal. While what I have suggested might not adhere strictly to the definition of journaling, why bother? The ends, here do justify the means. So pick up a pen and start writing.
All this is fine, but what does all this have to do with being ourselves? What it has to do, is that by putting in the slightest of extra efforts doing the above, we grant ourselves the capacity of an informed judgment and are subsequently able to formulate an idea of our capabilities and differentiate disciplines and fields based on inclination.
The term self-discovery is not what we usually attribute it to – an abstract idea we reduce to peace in a zen-tinted peach garden. Self-discovery is not only for those who abstain from the duties of society, seeking to devote themselves to a monastic regimen. It is something that relates to all of us and serves as a method to attain peace and contentment in life. As I say, “To discover oneself is to discover the world”.