日期:2015-06-12 11:13


A few weeks ago, I asked readers to send in essays describing their purpose in life and how they found it. A few thousand submitted contributions, and many essays are online. I’ll write more about the lessons they shared in the weeks ahead, but one common theme surprised me.
I expected most contributors would follow the commencement-speech clichés of our high-achieving culture: dream big; set ambitious goals; try to change the world. In fact, a surprising number of people found their purpose by going the other way, by pursuing the small, happy life.

Elizabeth Young once heard the story of a man who was asked by a journalist to show his most precious possession. The man, Young wrote, “was proud and excited to show the journalist the gift he had been bequeathed. A banged up tin pot he kept carefully wrapped in cloth as though it was fragile. The journalist was confused, what made this dingy old pot so valuable? ‘The message,’ the friend replied. The message was ‘we do not all have to shine.’ This story resonated deeply. In that moment I was able to relieve myself of the need to do something important, from which I would reap praise and be rewarded with fulfillment. My vision cleared.”
伊丽莎白·扬(Elizabeth Young)说她听过一个故事。故事里,一个记者让一个人展示一下他所拥有的最宝贵的东西。扬写道,那人“十分骄傲而激动地向记者展示了他收到的一份礼物。一只破旧的锡壶,被他小心翼翼地用布包着。记者懵了,这么一个破玩意为何如此宝贵?‘启示,’那位朋友答道。它带来的启示是,‘不是所有人都需要发光。’这个故事给我很大触动。在那一刻,我认识到我不必强求自己去做重要的事,并为此得到赞誉,获取成就感。我的视野清晰起来。”
Young continues, “I have always wanted to be effortlessly kind. I wanted to raise children who were kind.” She notes that among those who survived the Nazi death camps, a predominant quality she noticed was generosity.
“Perhaps,” she concludes, “the mission is not a mission at all. ... Everywhere there are tiny, seemingly inconsequential circumstances that, if explored, provide meaning” and chances to be generous and kind. Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments.
Kim Spencer writes, “I used to be one of the solid ones — one of the people whose purpose was clearly defined and understood. My purpose was seeing patients and ‘saving lives.’ I have melted into the in-between spaces, though. Now my purpose is simply to be the person ... who can pick up the phone and give you 30 minutes in your time of crisis. I can give it to you today and again in a few days. ... I can edit your letter. ... I can listen to you complain about your co-worker. ... I can look you in the eye and give you a few dollars in the parking lot. I am not upset if you cry. I am no longer drowning, so I can help keep you afloat with a little boost. Not all of the time, but every once in a while, until you find other people to help or a different way to swim. It is no skin off my back; it is easy for me.”
金·斯班瑟(Kim Spencer)写道:“我原本属于铁板一块的那种人——就是对人生目标有很清晰的定义和理解。我的目标是看病‘救人’。不过我已经融入了某种中间状态。现在我的目标就是做一个人……一个可以拿起电话,花上30分钟和陷入困境的你交谈的人。我今天可以给你这么长时间,过几天还可以再给你……我可以编辑你的信件……我可以听你抱怨同事……我可以看着你的眼睛,在停车场给你几块钱。我不会因为你哭而心烦。我已经不再下沉,所以我可以轻轻托着你,让你也浮起来。我做不到随时奉陪,但每隔一段时间有一次是可以的,直到你找到别的人帮你,或者学会了换一种办法游泳。我没什么损失,对我来说是小事一桩。”
Terence J. Tollaksen wrote that his purpose became clearer once he began to recognize the “decision trap”: “This trap is an amazingly consistent phenomena whereby ‘big’ decisions turn out to have much less impact on a life as a whole than the myriad of small seemingly insignificant ones.”
泰伦斯·J·托拉克森(Terence J. Tollaksen)写道,自从开始意识到“决策陷阱”的存在,他的人生目标就变得清晰起来:“这种陷阱是一种一致性惊人的现象,就是说你会发现一些‘重大’决定对整个人生的影响,其实远没有许许多多看起来不起眼的小事大。”
Tollaksen continues, “I have always admired those goal-oriented, stubborn, successful, determined individuals; they make things happen, and the world would be lost without them.” But, he explains, he has always had a “small font purpose.”
“I can say it worked for me. I know it sounds so Midwest, but it’s been wonderful. I have a terrific wife, 5 kids, friends from grade school and high school, college, army, friends locally, and sometimes, best of all, horses, dogs, and cats. Finally, I have a small industrial business that I started and have run for 40 years based on what I now identify as principles of ‘Pope Francis capitalism.’ ”
Hans Pitsch wrote: “At age 85, the question of meaning in my life is urgent. The question of the purpose of my life is another matter. World War II and life in general have taught me that outcomes from our actions or inactions are often totally unpredictable and random.”
汉斯·皮什(Hans Pitsch)写道:“我85了,人生意义是一个紧迫的问题。人生目标的问题就另当别论了。第二次世界大战以及我的整个人生让我明白,我们的作为和不作为造成的结果,往往完全是不可预测的、随机的。”
He adds, “I am thankful to be alive. I have a responsibility to myself and those around me to give meaning to my life from day to day. I enjoy my family (not all of them) and the shrinking number of old friends. You use the term ‘organizing frame’ in one’s life. I am not sure if I want to be framed by an organizing principle, but if there is one thing that keeps me focused, it’s the garden. Lots of plants died during the harsh winter, but, amazingly, the clematises and the roses are back, and lettuce, spinach and tomatoes are thriving in the new greenhouse. The weeping cherry tree in front of the house succumbed to old age. I still have to plant a new tree this year.”
This scale of purpose is not for everyone, but there is something beautiful and concrete and well-proportioned about tending that size of a garden.☐