So, GCSE results have recently come out.  Each grade is a rewarding result of hard work, and a promise made for the future, that the holder is one step closer to surviving in the world and, well educated and qualified, achieving Purposeful Things and perhaps Making a Difference.

But what have they gained, I wonder, that is the magic ingredient to help them to Make that Difference?  I doubt the exam certificate is enchanted.  And the knowledge of Pythagoras’ theorem or the ability to quote Shakespeare is useful, but can only take you so far… So where is it?

purposelessness 1I fear that, having approached education so logically and purposefully, it’s not there.

I have been on a course this year (a really cool one in Devon called Call of the Wild) which has no exam or qualification.  I’m half way through the course, and so far I’ve found, as one does, that there have been parts which have really grabbed me and others which passed me by.  If I was being examined, I would be forced to spend time on the things that I don’t like as much as the good stuff.  Probably the majority of time actually, because it’s difficult to learn something I don’t like.  As it is, I am free to gaily explore the more exciting discoveries in my own way, and not get distracted by the less appealing bits.  I’m not getting a standardised experience.  Instead I’m cultivating a love for the woods and life more broadly, which tends to be contagious.  I have accidentally caught it, it wasn’t on the syllabus and I wasn’t expecting it.

Love is the magic ingredient, I am sure.  And love is not purposeful.

So I see an amusing contradiction here.  Set out, with Purpose, to Make a Difference, and although the world gets another achiever, I am already on the wrong track to fulfill my Purpose.  Have no purpose and do what I enjoy purely for the sake of doing it, and the world gets genuine love, a truly healing power.  Probably the best way to Make a Difference is to not set out to make a difference (as long as I don’t turn that into a purpose in itself).

Purpose and meaning are not joined at the hip, it seems to me, and it’s a mistake to think that they are.  A good purpose can inspire meaningful action, but it is so easily diverted towards the meaningless, especially in our ‘rational pursuit of self-interest’ culture.

purposelessness 2You can’t set out to fall in love with somebody.  Everyone knows that.  But people do still appear to fall in love all the time.  It’s not a logical process, it’s instinctual.  However, as a culture we seem to lose faith in instinct, and therefore love, beyond intimate relationships.  So schools and business and individuals invent purpose to bring some feeling of control, to order the future.  Economic arguments take over.  Ways are devised to measure impact, and other abstract immeasurables, to demonstrate the fulfillment of purpose and justify the effort.  But I don’t see much love.  The logical, noisy brute of purpose squashes it.

Love doesn’t co-exist with logic and order, I think.  For me, I seem to stumble across it only when I am not looking for it, when I’m free and unmeddlesome.  When I’m immersed in the present and not thinking about the future.

Surrender a bit to chaos?  How disorientating.  I must say I rarely properly experience what I’m trying to describe, it just comes in flashes and then it’s gone.  I guess it peeps out and then gets buried again under my years of conditioning that screams at me that without purpose, goals and demonstrable results I have nothing.

Rather than glowing with love, letting go of purpose mostly leaves me pretty clueless about what I’m doing or why, very much in the dark.  But increasingly that feels like a good sign, as long as I do allow myself to be grabbed by the things that grab me.  Follow the love.

One comment on “Purposelessness
  1. You go for it Mr Packe – this pointlessness business is not for the feint hearted. I think you need to let go of the idea of some pre-determined or society-determined purpose before you can choose your own one. It takes a lot of courage, insight and honesty to say ‘I am completely pointless’ But the truth is that we are all pointless – a beautiful thing once you get used to the idea. Chuck the words ‘should, must, supposed and ought’ out of your vocabulary – in relation to yourself and to others – and see what happens.

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