169 – The Death of Wonder …

“… We were growing up, of course, impatient at times / to grow up more quickly, half to oblige those / who had nothing to show for having grown up. / And yet, when left on our own, what we liked / was what did not change, and there we stood / in the space between world and toy, / a place that had from the beginning / been consecrated for a pure event.

Who shows a child as he really is? Who places / him among the stars and puts the measuring stick of separation / into his hands? … Murderers are / easy to understand. But this, though: death, / all of death, even before life has begun, / to hold it all so gently and without rancor, / this is beyond description. [1]

What is it about the human mind that can be so easily manipulated into conformism?

During the first years of Life the human mind is filled with unbounded curiosity. But this innate sense of wonder begins to be manipulated into conformism under the influence of parental/cultural demands. It is then further manipulated, oftentimes to the point of complete obliteration, under the influence of educational systems that demand us to conform to aggressive and destructive economic and socio-political paradigms (consumerism, divisiveness, conflict, gross inequality). The results of our conformism to these paradigms are apparent in what we are doing to Earth.

Rebelliousness against the authority of those who curb our curiosity by expecting us to conform to boundaries instead of openness is oftentimes castigated with levels of cruelty that not only incite more rebelliousness but lead to complacency, cynicism, numbness, and the ravages of opioids. There is, without question, the need for guidance in focusing youthful energy with firm yet nurturing discipline. But with the understanding that curiosity’s greatest foe is not rebelliousness but what lies in the minds of those who are already so conformed to the status quo that they cannot conceive that rebelliousness is generally an outcome against the irrationality of their expectations.

A step in our evolution we have not been able to overcome is the continued perception of reality exclusively under the limitations of our primary organic senses (vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell). Of course, these senses are the tools we have developed to perpetuate our survival, but they give us a perception of separation from the natural world. This sense of separation is an illusion – we are in Nature as Nature is in us – and the cause of our irrational aggressiveness towards the same environment on which our survival depends. This illusion of separation is the death of wonder – wonder about the primal pulse of Life in our veins as it tries to understand itself; wonder about a mind that can reflect on its past and dream about its future, and wonder.

Manipulating an infant mind to fit in, to give into conformism is to enslave the boundless curiosity we deem so beautiful in childhood; it is to take away one of the greatest joys of Life … this is beyond description.

[1] Excerpt from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Fourth Elegy. Translation by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann

Revised December 2020   

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