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When I finally got bored of sliding down the 4 foot blue slide that stood at the end of the playground in front of my suburban home, I steered my playtime into a more adventurous route, as I started digging into the wood mulch that covered the terrain of the park like a dog frantically unearthing the ground for a bone. My expectations were beyond the moon, like any five-year-old. Lost treasures. A capsule of forgotten secrets. A map that could lead me to the ends of the earth. The deeper I got, the more unrealistic the predictions got. But when my cold hands reached the bottom, there was nothing but black. A black tarp that seemed to stretch underneath the perimeter of the playground, buried under wooden pulp. Of course, this wasn’t the first time my optimistic self got disappointed. In fact, as the days pass by, my optimism seems to grow, along with the disappointments that come with it.
Optimism is seen as one of the best things you could have. As described by Jurriaan Kamp, “it is our choice to accept the rain and look beyond it to the coming sunshine. We create pessimism by our focus on the bad. At the same time we create optimism by focusing on the good. And, as we shall see, optimism is a much more rewarding strategy.” Kamp’s praise of optimism is honestly optimistic at best. Because while putting on your best attitude and walking out the door telling yourself that there’s a bright side to every situation you could ever encounter seems like an ideal way to live, its nearly impossible to make it reality. For the past eighteen years, I have tried to bring myself to find even crumbs of value or content in my darker days, but in the end I have deemed it as impossible.
While Kamp refers to optimism as rewarding, I can hardly see it as such. When my optimism led me to believe that I would definitely find or gain something from digging through the wooden pulp of the playground, the only thing I got was lines of dirt between my nails, and a scolding from my mother. Perhaps the more I am let down by my optimism, the more I begin to distrust myself. By constantly looking forward towards to a positive solution or a happier alternative, we seem to just put ourselves more at risk for disappointment.
But don’t be fooled. Just because I discourage constant optimism doesn’t mean that I find pessimism any better. We shouldn’t live life thinking one way or the other. we shouldn’t always look for good or always look for bad. In fact, we shouldn’t look for anything. When an unfortunate situation presents itself, we should accept it and familiarize ourselves with unpleasant emotions, as it’s something we must all deal with eventually. Likewise, when something good happens, we should just be happy and live in the moment. Because, life isn’t a way of thinking, its a series of both equally good and bad events, and looking at them in a different way definitely won’t change that.
Looking back at my early foolishness, I also wonder why I began to dig in the first place. Instead of going to a different park or doing another activity all together, why did I begin to search for something? This seems like a tendency we humans seem to have. Always searching for things that may not even exist. Meaning. Purpose. Answers. God. Why do we let ourselves get caught up in in ideas and questions with no concrete solution? But, we all start a search eventually, for one reason or another. Sometimes, it has to do with our life, and what we are meant to do with it. But I believe that Viktor E. Frankl says it best, when he states that “man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible” . To put it simply, Frankl is explaining that our meaning is found in our ability to ask questions in the first place. There is not another species on the planet that wonders what they should do, what they should be, or what their existence means. Humans have the wonder of complex thought, and it just so happens that no two humans could have the exact same thought in the exact same way.
And so, the search continues. We keep asking questions. we continue to explore new ideas. Because, we aren’t all obsessed with finding the meaning of life, as Frankl was referring to. We each have our own obsession for answers to many different things. For some reason, we can never be content on just living without questioning anything. We all have this sick, amazing, wonderful and insatiable desire to know. And without it, we would be as dumb and primitive as every other species on this planet. Just like how we are too dumb and too primitive to answer many of the questions we create. But again, that’s what makes us special. Not the ability to answer, but to ask. It’s just a bonus that inevitably we get answers sometimes. And then, those answers may lead to more questions. And so on, and so forth. So I suppose I will leave you with a question or two of my own. Would it ever be possible for us to function on questions alone? To keep exploring a new idea without ever concluding a previous one? To keep producing theories without proving any? As ludicrous and impractical as it sounds, there really is only one way to find out. And what way is that, you ask? Well, I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to that one yet.
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