One evening several years ago I found myself on the floor of a Methodist church wardrobe. Next to me sat a blue angelic-looking boy around 7 years old. We were talking.
He told me why he was so sad: he wasn’t allowed to help in rearranging the furniture upstairs due to his health condition. Those who help are good and always receive the praise, he explained. He wanted to get the praise too, but couldn’t — and this was filling him with frustration.
In awe of this unbeatable logic, I asked him what does it mean to be good, and he looked at me puzzled. You know the Bible, he asked, it’s written there. Soon I gave up with my mean agnostic questions — he had a response for everything. His world was clear and ordered. After a while, he wasn’t upset anymore and returned upstairs.
I was left alone, amazed, envious, miserable.
He was 100% sure he was doing the right thing. I had no clue what this right thing was. I couldn’t walk up straight to it, always ending up on the floors of various weird places.
I believe that making sense out of the world is the strongest human need. Breath, sleep, eat, make sense. It’s like having a greedy, hungry hole in the chest — the purpose, any purpose, powers up the most insane ventures, lack of it leads to depression and decay.
All the human culture is the result these sense making attempts. Ancient beliefs and mythologies were born to explain the world: thunders, good and bad luck, death and birth, seasons changing. Things just kept happening, and the whole divine pantheons were needed to wrap our heads around it.
However, an explanation of the world doesn’t cost much without securing your place in it. We have to be sure we’re doing the right thing. It’s vital. Complex sacrifices and rituals served to establish this feeling: we are good. We still use it: remember the time when you’ve done something of questionable morals. Most likely you spent some of your mental energy to create your explanation. It will be easier to do for the second time, and may get into your value system on the third.
The gift of sensemaking is amazing. It can be used to connect the dots and dig down the truth, invent the meaning and the purpose, power up the change. It can as much be used to explain what has already happened — and make sure we were good.
It’s much easier when the meaning of your life and instructions on how to be good are provided to you on your birth day, like to that boy in the church wardrobe. But most of us have to invent them ourselves. Feeding this greed for the meaning, choosing what to stick to — sometimes it’s deadly exhausting.
But creating your own meaning of your life and never be 100% sure that you‘re doing the right thing — that seems to be the cost of freedom.