Most of us wander for years from place to place, from activity to activity, searching for meaning in our lives. Most of the time we are not aware of why we do this, we simply follow the persistent buzz of our inner dissatisfaction and restlessness. We seek solace in religious beliefs or self-help books, we go to spiritual gurus and psychotherapists, in an attempt to find the elusive “inner dimension” that would bring peace and equanimity even though we are unable to articulate what we are actually looking for.
Victor Frankl made it clear a long time ago that even in the direst of circumstances man can preserve independence of mind and spiritual freedom, given his attitude to his existence. An active, creative life in the service of others will cultivate love and compassion, will give meaning to one’s inner life and develop his connection with a bigger purpose, thus dissolving loneliness and isolation.
It is unfortunately all too common a trend in our current educational systems to support individual success and expertise at the cost of collaboration and team work. Too early we are taught that “you gotta’ be the best!” and “ if it ain’t fun, don’t do it” so, if there is any hint of hardship and suffering in any task, it will diminish our oh-so-important, “must win” self. We have gone beyond acclaiming success: we now cheer for the slightest whiff of common sense and effort and create a sense of overconfidence and overestimation in our students. If you do not believe this, look at assignments given to college or high school students and at the rates of passing! Over inflated self assessments lead to incompetence (Krueger-Dunning 2003,83-87), an ever increasing avoidance of any constructive criticism, and potentially additional moral ambivalence or even deceptive behaviour (Park 2010,471-488).
Now, I do not subscribe to the idea that only things that are difficult are worth pursuing! I will be the first one to expand on the benefits of lying under a tree on a sunny day, dreaming the clouds away. I would argue though that the path to self- discovery and evolvement is a difficult one and (too many times!) not very pleasant, nor very easy. We seem to do very little to support qualities such as altruism, generosity, or compassion in our educational curriculums, yet we somehow expect our societies to evolve towards that.
I can only hope that we will be able to change the way we educate and support change in years to come, for it is foolish to believe that continuing the way we have done so far will lead to a better world. If we cannot look at ourselves critically, we cannot move forward, since, as Victor Frankl so clearly stated: “What is to give light must endure burning”.
Dunning, D., Johnson, K., Ehrlinger, J., & Kruger, J. (2003). Why people fail to recognize their own incompetence. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12(3).
Frankl, V. E. 1985. Man's search for meaning: Simon and Schuster..
Park, C. 2003. In other (people's) words: Plagiarism by university students--literature and lessons. Assessment & evaluation in higher education, 28(5).