As I walk this road to more simple living, I have come to learn, more than anything that constant education of self is vital in understanding how our world works and changes. I am a professional student of sorts as I have worked hard and earned a cornucopia of letters behind my name. However, despite all my degrees, diplomas, certifications, and hours of training, it is my education of life that I feel has served me most valuably (much, I am sure, to the slight chagrin of my parents).
Please don’t misunderstand. Education on paper is important and very necessary in today’s world. As a licensed teacher it would be unethical for me to say otherwise – so I am being honest when I say I believe it to be true. Future employers demand high standards in and advanced knowledge of specific areas and skills. My paper education has served me well. It provides me with foundational backing and proof that I am smart, disciplined, and able to critically problem solve. Truth be told, it is my well developed critical thinking skills (thanks to years of grad work) that have served me most as I transition through this simplification period of my life. I give heartfelt thanks to one of my graduate school professors as he was the one who encouraged me to question everything – even the very definition of education. While completing my Masters in Education, Dr. C would reiterate the importance of “pursuing the question mark”. His advice included, “when you think you’ve found the answer keep looking, there’s always another side to the story.” While his class focused primarily on the theories and pedagogy surrounding teaching practices, his advice certainly bridged to other areas. It has been over six years since I first heard the term “pursue the question mark” and I have chosen to live the advice ever since.
I’m being quite literal when I state that I question everything. Admittedly I come across rather cynical and unconvinced at times, but it is never personal, it’s simply my way of processing information and looking for possible ways in which things can be explained or done differently. It never ceases to amaze me how lacking in information many of those in society are. Here we are, walking around with devices that, at a simple voice prompt, can provide use with almost all the information we as humankind have collected during the majority of our time on this planet. Yet we blind ourselves to important and accessible information when we take things at face value and put ultimate trust in all that we read and are told. We need to relearn to trust our instincts and place a stronger hold on the value of our individual experiences – for it is our experiences that give way to our values and opinions. Direct knowledge of self and how it relates to our immediate world is what, ultimately, is going to have the greatest impact on our relationship with the things and beings we come in contact with on a daily basis.
The best example I can give is one that has taken up a large chunk of my life for the past year. In my pursuit of simple, I have taken on the responsibility of knowing from where the items in my life have come. I have pursued the question mark and educated myself – the outcome of which has led me to uncover some rather unsettling information regarding the products I use and the food I eat. In our determination to simplify society by means of “making things faster and easier” what appears to have been created is a civilization that more or less chooses not to look much deeper then surface claims. If it makes life easier, then it must be a good thing. However, my definition of simplicity, which I share with Webster’s dictionary, is “the quality of being easy to understand or use” whereby I interpret in terms of social norms and claims as – if there is great complexity and suffering in the background in order to make MY life simpler, then I want no part of it.
Simple living, as with life education, is about making choices. If you chose one thing over another, then allow it to be YOUR choice and no one else’s. I have spent a great deal of time unlearning lessons and practices which I believed to be steadfast, only to pursue the question mark and uncover the other side of the story. Living simply is not about settling, it’s about understanding and reconnecting in order to appreciate the resulting choices and consequences. Simple living can be hard at times, physically, mentally, and emotionally, but it involves living with knowledge and foresight – both of which can shake up our comfortable worlds at times. Yes, simplicity can be lost when you have to go digging for answers, but in the end, I believe the resulting life education is worth the extra effort.
Consider this statement from Mark Plotkin during his TED talk, What the People of the Amazon Know that you Don’t: “The rain forest holds answers to questions we have yet to ask”. I would go a few steps further and suggest that the ocean, space, even our own souls hold the answers to questions we have yet to ask. STOP for a minute and really think about this…such a concept can be overwhelming and life-changing when put into proper context. What answers have you not been provided simply because you didn’t ask a question in the first place?
Wherever and whenever possible, I encourage you, too, to pursue the question mark.
I think you’ll be surprised where it leads you.