When was the last time you had a vision? Mine occurred when I was on a plane, watching the clouds drift below me.
A Boeing 747 is making its way through the evening skies thirty thousand feet above the ground, and I see three men. Too busy with their lives they can’t see me, but I see them. I feel I know them, we are long-time friends. One is clearly a man of the past, the second of the present. Now the third one – he is a mystery. I want to get to know him better.
The Traditional Man
A good, reliable person, this man lives a proper life. He is focused on career, he values marriage and respects organized religion. He accepts authority and dislikes uncertainty. He has firm views on life, but they are often unexamined, since he lacks self-reflection. He is driven by ambition, but it’s often blind, passed on to him.
He doesn’t question or examine his choices often – he is not a man of doubts. He accepts, he pursues, he conquers. He can be satisfied if his life circumstances allow him to be successful. But too often he is preoccupied with pleasing others, living the life he is expected to live, losing sight of who he should be, and what can make him genuinely happy.
The Modern Man
An intelligent, forward-looking person, this man lives an informed life. He looks pragmatically at career, indifferently at marriage, sarcastically at religion. He is a nonconformist and has a great capacity for critical thinking. He neglects ideas such as ‘human nature’ or ‘right and wrong’, since for him they are all subjective and culturally-biased concepts.
He believes in total individual freedom and equality. Often it means that he is suspicious of duty or sacrifice. He is free from the dogmas and prejudice of the past – belief, family values, traditions, norms are all signs of bad taste for him. But too often he has nothing to substitute them with, and so he preoccupies himself with healthy food, fitness, animal rights and the preservation of nature.
He lacks firm convictions about life, but has lots of anecdotal opinions. He believes in justice, but not in forgiveness. His cynicism only thinly disguises the emptiness he often feels, and protects him from failures, that inevitably accompany an engaged life of ideas and actions.
Lacking answers to the most important questions of life, he focuses on a biological existence, in which physical life is sacred, but nothing is worth living or dying for. Much too often his life oscillates between restless boredom and quiet, meaningless suffering.
The Conscious Man
This man tries to live an examined life of inner reflection and outward exploration. He sees marriage as formality but seeks partnership and harmony, career for him is just one way to do important work, religion can be uplifting if it brings unity and expands consciousness or destructive if instead it narrows the mind and divides people.
Being fully aware of man’s flaws and imperfections, he also believes in his potential for growth and change. When the Traditional Man says “it’s all God-given”, and the Modern Man says “a man is a product of his genes, upbringing and society – tough luck”, he answers “it’s all true, but man is also endowed with awareness and intelligence, with potential to transform his life, and lives of the people around him”. He isn’t interested in the question of freedom of will – it’s too academic for him. He just knows that believing that you have freedom promotes responsibility and allows potential to unfold.
He doesn’t deem himself to be in control of his life – he has no illusions about man’s limitations. But at the same time, he believes that fulfilled life is attainable: by bringing awareness and responsibility to life; by coping with doubts, not escaping them; by making choices, not avoiding them; by venturing, not standing still; by failing and quitting but not without trying.
He is proactive but not out of self-confidence or blind decisiveness, but out of a painful awareness of the finiteness of his life. He thinks about death a lot – it serves him as a constant reminder to live fully. He rarely uses words such as “destiny” or “fortune”. He is often lost at words.
He believes that man deserves a special respect and dignity. Being aware of his own imminent end, still he is trying to pursue a life of meaning and happiness… man is a tragic and a comic figure at the same time. Lost in a world devoid of any inherent meaning or order, he struggles to find meaning in relationships and projects that are doomed to fail or finish. But he struggles, never the less.
The Conscious Man is often restless and anxious but almost never bitter. He might be confused, but he admits it; he might be lost, but he is searching for his path.
Three men, three ways of living. In which of them you see yourself?