Friday, September 20, 2013

Ambition, Purpose, and ...

Ambition promotes action and wards off apathy.  Ambitious goals offer motivation to an otherwise slothful personality.  Is life's purpose simply to struggle towards those goals?  Is happiness measured by one's progress in their pursuit?

But how to choose these goals.  Whither to aim?  What ends to achieve? How to gauge advancement?

Vexatious questions.  Attempt too much and never succeed.  Attempt too little and your gains are hollow.  Tarry long in your decision, and life passes you by.  Choose poorly, and regret it in your dotage.

Like all ideas on this blog, a more apt expression already existed generations ago:

 Robert Browning, A Grammarian's Funeral:
That low man seeks a little thing to do,
          Sees it and does it:
This high man, with a great thing to pursue,
          Dies ere he knows it.
That low man goes on adding one to one,
          His hundred's soon hit:
This high man, aiming at a million,
          Misses an unit.
Lately I find these themes in all I read: the uncertain purpose of existence, and the lament of the road not taken.  Writers have ruminated on these universal themes since reeds were pressed into clay, but put into a pretty passage, I will still freeze up as I read them.  Some samplings from recent readings:
Gore Vidal, Creation

I think that I might have done well at banking had I not been so carefully trained to be neither a priest nor a warrior.  Although I have the Persian noble's contempt of trade, I lack his passion for war and hunting and drinking wine to excess.  Although I  have a priest's deep knowledge of religion, I am not certain what is true.  Although I once heard the voice of the Wise Lord, I confess now in my old age that to hear and to listen are two different things.  I am puzzled by creation.  (p. 327)
But then, what we are is seldom what we want to be while what we want to be is either denied us -- or changes with the seasons.
     Am I not wise, Democritus?  Now that winter's come for me and the ice is black, I know exactly who and what I am -- a corpse-in-waiting.  (p. 374)
Related Posts: So & So From Wherever, All My Ghosts