Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
Meaning of Life
I wonder how many of us ever have conversations with friends, family or spouses about the meaning of life? Do you wonder why we’re here and what our purpose is? Questions about meaning and purpose preoccupy philosophers and clergy. Yet ordinary people engage in meaning-making even though they might not label it as such as they try to understand why things work as they do, or attempt to gain clarity about experiences. But I fear that we often stop short of thinking deeply about the meaning of life in a way that creates a path of action and a sense of purpose.
In December, I wrote about the work of Denise Pope and Madeline Levine with respect to defining success, and I remembered that the discussions about success are directly tied to “meaning of life” questions. Pope and Levine point to the large spike in stress related issues (including depression, anxiety, suicides and addictions) among middle class adolescents as symptomatic of our simplistic definitions of success. They note that the definition of success for these students and families are admittance to “the right” school or the attainment of “the” athletic scholarship. If they fail to attain that goal, they are crushed, and if they attain the goal, they lack clarity about “what’s next?” They don’t have multiple paths of action nor a sense of purpose.
In considering Pope and Levine’s work, I discussed how school needs to be structured to encourage meaning-of-life questions so children can develop their purpose. Children need time to ask “why” questions and to hear different answers about the purpose in life to help them how they might create their own path.
Faith-based schools like Wornick have the means to engage in this sort of thinking. They offer a paradigm and a context from which such questions can naturally and organically arise. Yet many such schools historically have taught in a dogmatic way – trying to answer these complex “why” questions in simplistic “single-answer” ways. Their goal was to close the conversation with a pat answer. In the most rigid cases, they teach that there is only one “right” answer, rather than encouraging a dialogue and a personal journey of exploration.
Our program is structured so that students have the content knowledge they need to find their vocation, as well as a language to express wonder and gratitude. Above all, we champion the exploration of the “whys”. Our answers are tentative since that is all that we can honestly offer. Our goal is to provide multiple paths through this journey called ‘life’ that enable our children to confidently stride forward, regardless of whichever path they choose to take. The sense of purpose and meaning that they develop at Wornick will serve as their unwavering North Star as they navigate life.
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