Announcing 'Conscientia'

September 27, 2004

As a teenager — and perhaps beyond — I thought I might achieve some great thing in this world. I wished for recognition, aspired for greatness and some exalted place, to strive with Tennyson's gods…

Death closes all: but something ere the end
Some work of noble note, may yet be done
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.

My dreams were of the Nobel Prize (physics), or poet laureate; of stardom on the soccer field or the rock stage; even dreams of the Presidency. Though practical reality was never truly far from my thoughts, one cannot say my hubris lacked imagination. And at its core, I always saw this striving as a singular thing done by individual men (in the neutral sense; I've always been for equal opportunity).

The dream of the Presidency was the first to go; great achievement in physics was the last. Ever since the first time I nearly dropped out of graduate school (which actually occurred the day before registering for classes), I have struggled to gain a coherent vision for what I might do with my life. Perhaps my oldest and most resilient dream was to be a tweed-clad professor of physics (or philosophy or … ), leading classes, publishing, attending salons with other great minds. But when I began to question the very idea of getting a graduate degree in physics, the track I had laid before myself as a senior in high school, I felt utterly lost.

I still feel lost at times, but at nearly 28 I feel that I am getting a bit closer to figuring out what I'll do with my life. Most importantly, I now see my place not as some singularly important leader, but rather as one of the countless nodes working to reshape humanity. Just as I now see an interconnected network of life all around me instead of fundamental particles, I now see a network of actors in the social domain, each striving with gods, with but few achieving "some work of noble note" before their own deaths. It is the striving that I value now, with or without the global recognition I once sought, and the knowledge that others are working toward the goals I now hold dear: "[to] create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings." (URI charter).

Within this network, I see myself acting from an eco-religious perspective (I'll explain that one some time), working to reshape humanity and achieve sustainability, social justice, and a more harmonious, unified society. A tall order to be sure, but one that my faith tells me is attainable.

And thus I announce a true name for this blog: Conscientia. In Latin the word means "joint knowledge." The purpose is not for me to share my wisdom and knowledge — for what small matter I may possess is but gleaned or inspired by those before and around me, and in no greater measure than anyone else. Rather, it is to share what knowledge I may encounter as I strive to learn from those who would share with me, and invite a further sharing and spreading of wisdom through the occasional or even frequent comment below.

Eleanor Roosevelt once declared that "the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." Though I may be a bit more cynical, a bit less dreamy, and hopefully more mature than the dreams of my high school days, I still believe in their beauty. Rather than a beauty of achievement, it is now the beauty of order arising from our chaos — of unity in diversity, of individual threads weaving a gorgeous tapestry together.

[Thanks to the use of shuffle in iTunes with over two-thousand songs to choose from, this little piece was composed to the aural inspiration of Pavement, Rhea's Obsession, R.E.M., Lyle Lovett, Simon & Garfunkel, Radiohead, Beethoven, Bon Jovi, and Soundgarden.]


do you think that perhaps the cult of celebrity in our culture and the warholian idea that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes (at least) have something to with what you call your hubris?

one of my students brought this up in class a couple of weeks back in regards to a novel we're reading (in which a pair of lovers are split up in Wall-going-up era East Germany because one of them decides to high-tail it to the West.) i think that the individual achievement-orientation in our society, which is reinforced by media images of people who've "made it," so to speak, gives us often unrealistic ideas of what goals we can/should achieve.

you too can be on the red carpet at the emmy awards, you too can be on MTV, a Nobel Peace prize winner, this year's American Idol, President, etc.

i'd be willing to submit that a lot of the reason depression rates are so high in Western societies like the U.S. is that there's this underlying assumption that everyone has (or should have) an individual goal that can/will/should be achieved. (the depression coming in when one hasn't gotten where one had hoped, in spite of the fact that "things are supposed to be different," etc.)

of course, at 3:00am, most thoughts like this seem profound ;)

my brother... have you read siddhartha lately? it's my favourite book, i read it for the first time on the plane out of zambia towards the end of my service during the baha'i holy year back in '93... finished it on the flight... it resonated so much with me 'because up to that point i'd spent my first couple years as a baha'i just focused on this idea that i needed to go on a year of service, then having done that it was so very different than i expected (don't get me wrong, it was, prior to married life & fatherhood, the best time in my life) and i walked out of that door once again feeling like i was rediscovering myself from scratch... that's what hesse's little book is about, and the basic idea that wisdom can never be imparted, only understood from within, and that we've each got our own reality to some extent, but that our individuality is not the vehicle to greatness or peace or fulfillment, only our oneness with humanity in our shared consumate experience (i.e. the sounds of all humanity heard in the river as a great "ohm")... anyhow, your latest offering, like that novella, resonated with me tremendously... and i'd like to offer up a hearty "what-what" on the new & improved moniker...

Intriguing responses. I'm not sure I have anything to add to them as such except to thank you for the valuable responses...

No, haven't read Siddhartha, and yes, media and American-style individualism go hand in hand. Another thing is the good old phrase "you can do anything, if you only set your mind to it." I think I took that a bit too literally. I won't discount its value as a saying, but if I were missing my legs i wouldn't be able to walk. Somethings just don't happen (without artificial external stimulation).

Thank you, gentlemen.