Friday, September 30, 2011

Finding the Purpose

One of the most valuable tools in my "thinking woman's toolbox" is "Finding the Purpose."  

If you can find the purpose of something, so much about it becomes clear. And so often, when things are messed up (like in education), it is because someone in charge hasn't properly identified the purpose.

Some examples:

If we want to fix the education system, we first must know the purpose of education. Is the purpose of education to score higher than other countries on international math and science tests? That seems like a pretty shallow purpose, doesn't it? Is the purpose of education to teach people a bunch of facts? To teach them how to think? To give people the tools they need to become informed, active citizens? To help them discover their talents and prepare to use them to support themselves and their families in the future? To help people contribute to society? To keep them from getting tricked/scammed/cheated/taken advantage of? What is the purpose of education? If you can define it, you can fix the problems in the system by creating a system that intentionally fills its purpose. 

But without defining the purpose of education, you really can't fix the system because there is no aim.

Likewise, understanding the purpose of having a job completely changes how you approach work. Do you have a job to get status? To get wealthy? To support yourself and your family so you can do things you love without being a burden on society? To use your talents to contribute to your society?

Understanding WHY you have a job makes it possible to prioritize, to make decisions, to organize your time, to choose what kind of career you want, to choose how you interact with co-workers.

What is the purpose of having dinner? What is the purpose of having FAMILY dinners? 

Finding the purpose of advice helps me implement it. What is the purpose of Family Home Evenings? 

I would not pretend to be able to answer the question, "Why? What is the purpose of this?" for every activity for every person. The answers are different for each person. Sometimes there are no answers.  Often we begin to understand the answers as we go along. Sometimes there are many answers. 

But I find that the pursuit of the answers to this one question end up being a major factor in many of my actions and decisions. Sometimes I make poor decisions based on it--if I don't find a purpose right away, I am sometimes inclined to reject things that shouldn't be rejected (like doctors' advice). I sometimes have to force myself to ask more questions when I can't see a purpose right away.   Often, though, it's liberating and fun. 

Like a small child, I find the intellectual curiosity--the "But WHY?" is endlessly appealing. 

I find it extremely satisfying, too, that God is okay with that. The gospel instructions, unlike things produced by committees, governments, organizations, etc., always have a purpose--or many purposes. And I find it amazingly vital in our ability to have faith in and believe in a religion to have God's purpose laid bare for us. He says it, so clearly, even, that his work and glory are "to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man". And he also says that "Men are that they might have joy."  Without the Plan of Salvation made very very clear, I don't think I could grasp hold of any religion--I need to know why, and Gospel makes the why abundantly clear.

And I find it immensely helpful to know that our purpose, as people, is, in part, to have joy. From that knowledge, the purpose of so many things becomes clear. Suddenly God isn't imposing archaic and arbitrary restrictions on us--He is giving us a hint about what will make us happy (or unhappy, or fail to make us happy, as the case may be). Suddenly the answer to question like "What is the purpose of education" or "Why have a job?" are answerable. 

So what is the purpose of all this I'm writing?

I guess you'll have to tease it out  yourself. I don't have answers. I just enjoy asking the questions.

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