There will be a noticeable theme among many of my posts, and it’s really the challenging of widespread ideas, accepted conventions, and popular advice that I believe are useless at best and, not only counterproductive, but destructive at worst. I go about this early in the morning or late in the evening by diving deep into a concept until I reach its essence, which is, its fundamental purpose, its reason for existence. In other words, I look for the “why”. Then I ask, “Is the fundamental purpose achieved by this type of thinking? Does this behavior or this advice or this technique or this trend or this event achieve the fundamental purpose it was supposed to?” From there, this journey goes through a series of more “why” questions as I investigate and learn.
There’s a simple word for all of this. It’s called study. We were supposed to have been taught that in school, but how many people today truly study their lives and the lives of others in order to to learn how to live life masterfully.
I guess it’s the difference between a masterpiece and an expression. Anyone can throw color on a white sheet and call it art. But it took a Boticelli to produce a Primavera. Anyone can stick things together and call it art. But it took a Michaelengelo to sculpt a David. Anyone can compile a series of events and call it a life. But it takes a special kind of effort to live life masterfully. It takes a Steve Jobs to build a company like Apple. It takes an Abraham Lincoln to keep a country together when there’s a civil war. It takes a Picasso to produce a Guernica. This is why I have a photo of paints on my Facebook page, to remind me that each day, each moment, is a stroke on my life’s painting.
Most people will be living expressions, simply trying to participate and partake of the back and forth of society. When they’re happy, they express happiness. When they’re sad, they express sadness. When they’re stressed, they express it. When they’re horny, they express it. When they feel cheated, they express it. When they want to talk, they express it. When they want something or feel something, the express it, which isn’t necessarily wrong, but also not necessarily wise, for wise is choosing the path, the activity, the expression, that is aligned with our purpose. Most will buy into the idea that “we’re free to express whatever we want”, and we are, but, sadly and detrimentally, will not filter their expressions in light of their purpose. I know this because I struggle with this. Also, we accept whatever expressions others make, telling ourselves that this is “love”, that this is “freedom”, that this is “understanding”, that “love wins” when everyone is free to do whatever they want for whatever reason they want, because we’re all equal. When someone is happy, and they express it, we automatically respond, “Nice! He’s happy.” When someone is sad and they express it, we automatically respond, “I’m sorry you’re sad.” When someone is expressing anything, we automatically express back, without thinking about this simple yet most essential thing: purpose. What’s the purpose of the moment? What’s the purpose of his or her expression? What’s the purpose of my response? The automatic and unreflective response is not freedom, it is not understanding, it is not more loving either. I would argue that it is less because it is impulse, it is reactive, and it is shallow. Maybe the happy person doesn’t need an, “I’m happy for you” but a “Time to move out and be a man. Your life is too easy.” Maybe the sad person doesn’t need, “I’m sorry” but “get over yourself.” These may sound harsh but may actually be what’s beneficial. Just like a coach who tells his team to fight harder, screaming at their faces to show the seriousness of the matter, maybe what people need to hear is not simply a mirror of their expression, but reminder of purpose.
One way I see this regularly in my own experience is when I see hundreds, if not thousands of people like or share my posts, then find that the average number of minutes spent on the post are actually not too high. Which means people either read really fast, faster than me at least, or people aren’t really reading the whole thing and simply browsing. Which makes me wonder, “What are they liking? A piece they didn’t actually read? The title? The little blurb they happened to resonate with? What if the rest of the piece was junk?”
They’re expressing their support for something they didn’t actually read, much less truly understand.
But there will be those willing to make the impossible effort necessary to live a masterpiece. Unlike those mindlessly expressing themselves, these people don’t start with “How do I feel?” but with “Who am I?” and “Why am I?”, for our identities are closely related to our purpose. These people aren’t randomly stringing life together based on the circumstance or the feeling of the moment, they’re disciplining themselves, they’re chipping away at their marble souls to bring out the sculpture they envision in their minds. The end result is not a mishmash of expressions and moments but a life, that, despite the struggles present in all our lives, maybe even because of it, impacts the world with such meaningfulness. Of course that life is meaningful, FULL of MEANING, because it was lived with meaning, with definition, with a clear why, or in other words, it was lived on purpose.
So everyday I have a choice: Do I merely live a collection of expressions based on the experiences of the moment or do I cultivate true art? Do I, like a true artist, and not one of those pretenders, hold myself up to that impossible standard of the great vision in my head, deliberate, systematic, passionate, tirelessly producing study after study until I get things right, ignoring the pressures of society, and transcending the shocks of life, that I may someday unveil a masterpiece.
This article was originally published in David Bonifacio’s blog.