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pursuit of happiness
role models
years of my life
inhibitions
correct answer
guilt
Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of What Now?
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Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of What Now?

I didn’t enjoy my introduction to life—from birth to the end of high school I was told what to do, what not to do, and what to watch out for. I was told to respect things and people. I was told to obey certain authority figures and to avoid certain bad influences. I was told to wait, be patient, not rush things—I was told to be on time, to have a schedule, meet a homework deadline or finish a school project on time. Eventually, I was even told to be careful how I planned these crucial years of my life.

I was never told what I should do with my life. I had religious instruction, but that was both transparently false and self-contradictory when examined too closely. I had the role-models of my parents—but they were raising children and trying to succeed in business—I felt that a crucial step was missing there—none of their behavior offered any clues as to how to go about growing up or finding a companion to grow up with. I had steadfastly ignored all the kids who seemed to be ignoring the rules—life was hard enough (I thought) without getting into trouble as well.

But finally, at around the same time I was finishing high school and starting college, I learned something very important—that life is the pursuit of happiness. No one had bothered to point this out—and I felt (though I may be mis-remembering this part) that that phrase from the Declaration of Independence had been rushed past hastily, lest it cause turmoil in the Social Studies classroom.

It isn’t really that I wasn’t given the correct answer to the question, “What is life for?”—it was more as if I had never been told that that question was an important one. And that first party I went to (I think it was somewhere in Lake Katonah) where I had several beers and suddenly found myself missing all my inhibitions and condition-reflex-guilt—at that first party, I saw things clearly for the first time.

Life was more than doing what you are told. Nothing against doing what one is told, especially as it relates to children—but there should be some mention made of the fact that living is its own purpose, and that the pursuit of personal happiness while one lives is so important that it is part of the written history of social enlightenment and of our great nation.

I soon forgot that enlightenment because I was so busy having fun. Let’s be clear on terms, here—having fun is one thing, pursuing happiness is altogether another thing. But the revelation I’d had—that it was OK to have fun, combined with my age—circa seventeen-years-old, made a perfect storm of the availability of drugs and alcohol, of the loss of any sense of ‘getting home in time for dinner’, i.e. staying out late and running around in the dark with small crowds of equally-libidinous, equally-thrill-starved teenagers, and of being unhappy with my life at home. In short, I drank and stoned and buzzed and tripped and petted and intercoursed my way through the following decade.

I was so busy catching up with all the kids my age that I overshot their adolescence by years—soon I ran across classmates that had finished college or had gotten married with kids of their own. And I guess I’ve been trying to catch up with maturity ever since.

The way I see it, I was thrown off course by being kept in the dark about certain basic facts of life (and not the usual ones). To have grown nearly to adulthood without ever having any concept of what living my life was, or should be, or can be. I never peeked around a corner because, in my youthful experience, anything new was dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. No one ever bothered to comment that new things are dangerous—but that is one of the best things about them—and why we should rush to embrace them.

My parents and teachers were too busy trying to chivvy me into line with their expectations and threatening me with consequences. They had me in fight-or-flight mode—my adrenaline pumped the moment any grown-up set their attention on me. I though the point of life was to survive childhood. And that’s just wrong.

We should always make sure that, among all the rules and riot acts we read to our children, we also include a word or two about living in a beautiful world filled with loving people, and about the main reason for education—to be ready to shape our destinies and achieve our dreams.


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