Dear Fellow Life Travelers,
The great author, thinker and mythologist Joseph Campbell said correctly that we deliver the most benefit to the world when we “find our bliss” and live it. I can honestly say that since 2003 I have pretty much given my life (and a significant portion of my former treasure) to what I see as both a humanitarian effort, and finding my own bliss through that which nourishes me, impassions me, and helps me grow–while helping others along their journey. Only now can I articulate this bliss as a long-time “calling to ministry,” and today I want to inform you of my effort to pursue the remaining days of my existence, including professionally—if possible, through that mission.
I’ve long joked with friends that I’ll wind up in an airport handing out flowers. My fate is definitely not that however—especially since such a role would appear to involve dogma and an inability to question authority—but it could be some reciprocal version that holds no beliefs above critical scrutiny, and teaches the primacy of mutual understanding and the golden rule.
Of course mine is a naturalistic ministry that seeks to move us beyond the failed and sometimes-dangerous promises of self-help, emotion-driven thinking, logical fallacies, new-age wackiness, pseudoscience and supposed certainty about unknowable supernatural claims—so I should be clear that there is no supernatural force “calling me,” but rather my own brain, emotions, interests, skills, and a deep recognition of human suffering. In short, I have set out on a journey to fund and sustain the mission and educational offerings of Truth-Driven Thinking, and to build a related social learning community. If you can assist me with that mission I will be eternally grateful; but that said, this communication is in the interest of sharing my personal motivations and choices with friends, family, and any others who have an interest—essentially the “what” and the “why”. My apologies that this letter is so “all about me”—a topic that doesn’t interest me much, and I will not be offended if it doesn’t interest you at all; but it seemed somehow necessary to offer up some details just in case someone wants them.
The truth is that I have a very difficult time being motivated or caring about doing the things which our culture and society tell me I am supposed to. I don’t disagree with those who contribute meaningfully to the world through traditional roles—or even pursuit of self interest. Those things matter hugely—even though I now question some of the great virtue Ludwig Von Misses and Ayn Rand might attach to self interest—but that’s for another day. The point is that try though I may, I cannot seem to be motivated by the status or rewards of being the metaphorical “sofa king ofKalamazoo”—perhaps for reasons relating to “personal baggage” and experiences that I will visit in a moment. But that does not mean I don’t have fire, passion, and dedication.
What are you going to do, Stephen?
The point here is that Truth-Driven Thinking will hopefully—under my full-time guidance—be able to initially (and sustainably) expand its mission to “improve the wellbeing of humanity through the promotion of social, emotional, and intellectual growth”—as a new, evolving, and radically different kind of organization—one I will again call a “ministry” (I ask leeway in use of the term, as I expressed here some time ago). You can think of it as a virtual (and hopefully someday a physical) “unchurch,” “knowledge church,” learning community, thinktank, or even a social media platform suited for learning—but in any case a force dedicated to the intellectually honest free exchange of ideas, and evidence-driven explorations of life’s most important questions.
For many people in today’s world, it can be difficult to find authentic, open-minded, and intelligent people with whom I can have safe, substantive, stimulating, and open conversations—where emotion is mastered such that all honest thoughts and inquiries are fair game.
It’s my dream to grow an organization that will continue the work of promoting improved estimates of reality as the primary path to improved human wellbeing. Further, it is my goal that the Truth-Driven Thinking organization will be a ministry that seeks to feed both the soul and the intellect—and hopefully illuminates alternative paths to beauty, joy, provisional knowledge, wonder, awe, and new discoveries—while shedding the bondage of dogma and certainty.
But what really motivates you to be so idealistically stupid, Steve?
Well, we all have likes, dislikes, unique personalities, genetics, life experiences, and environmental influences that make us exactly who we are today, and I have no doubt that I am “fully caused” by those things, in this case to be called to this work—or “ministry,” if you will. It might be noted that when I was a committed Christian I many times pondered becoming an ordained pastor; so it seems that a life of ministering and tending to human needs—while pondering big questions—was somehow interwoven into my DNA and experiences. In fact, when asked if I won the lottery today what I would do, a leading option would be to study comparative religion, early Christian history, and philosophy. There is so much insight and value we can gain from seeing the truth of human myths.
To be more specific, I am confident that the sudden loss of my father when I was seventeen, after my mother’s cancer and before her subsequent death within a decade—has shaped me profoundly. Most of what I thought I knew about how my life and how the world would look, was gone in an instant (or two instances). Though my logical brain knows of the need for retirement savings and even making a modest living in the present, when I look around the world I find those things very difficult to prioritize as goals in and of themselves. Though to the best of my knowledge I never felt anger over my losses—to the contrary gratitude for the time I spent with amazing people—three things have become very clear to me in the last twenty years. These things were further underscored by other profound losses I experienced as a result of death. In fact I’ll cut to the chase and say that death and darkness to some degree give meaning and perspective to life and light. What would life mean if there were no death? Would you want to live forever? For trillions of years?
Three Lessons I have Learned:
Lest I digress, here are the three lessons I learned again and again, and the ones that have made my ministry a “calling” that I just can’t reject.
1) Life is short and unpredictable, and all the retirement savings, money, material success, or job promotions you could possible amass will mean less in the end than we think—especially if we are not working in the area of our so-called bliss.
2) Human relationships are they key, and they define our very existence; without them—without sharing, love, cooperation, learning, hurt, and the myriad ways we interact—life would be utterly without meaning (yet we are not very good at these relationships sometimes—and we sadly take them for granted, or allow dogma, fears, xenophobia, and material desires to divide us and lead to hurting one another).
3) Life involves a tremendous amount of human suffering. If that’s not your experience, be grateful.
It is perhaps this latter point that most seems to illuminate the beauty and joy in my life, and curse my ability to settle into a narrow, prescribed path. Life truly is too short for us to settle—settle for needles pain and suffering for humans; settle for living anything less than fully; settle for loving anything less than wastefully in our relationships; settle for insecurity or ego to keep us from living and loving fully.
My old paradigms, my old black-and-white narratives about how the world worked and why; my arrogant old presumption about what supernatural gods had ordained me to do or not do; my old ignorant and elitist beliefs that I had material things because I had somehow made “better choices” than others around me who were suffering—have been forced from my head since the beginning of my journey to put truth ahead of ego.
This is not intended to be an expose on human suffering, but suffice to say for now that billions live daily in hunger, suffer and die in totalitarian regimes, lose families and disease to war, tsunamis, earthquakes and fires, and inflict horrors on one another that we in the West cannot even begin to imagine. This is not a guilt trip, it’s an observation. There is scarcity in the world—scarce water, natural resources, food, and even time and energy. My free-will elitism turned out to be as able to fuel my ignorance of human suffering as some forms of Karma allow others to dismiss them as fully earned and deserved.
Thus if I can help it, I am not going to waste my days doing anything but the work I am naturally “called” to do—which involves trying to mitigate human suffering in whatever small ways I can—through pursuit of truth about how the world works, and by encouraging us all to drink from cup of life deeply and not be shy about pursuing ever-elusive truth, and certainly by recognizing our own fallibilities. My hope is to exemplifying kindness and humility; promote a desirist/utilitarian outlook that seeks the greatest good for the greatest number of people—at least in terms of public policy decisions; promote continuous growth in intellectual honesty and self awareness; and promote science, reason, and logic as the best tools for estimating how the world might really work, and for fixing or improving it in terms of public policy.
For details on my argument that following truth and evidence and logic wherever they lead us are the best tools for improving things, you can visit my updated web site at www.truthdriventhinking.com.
Toward a New Definition of Success:
For now, however, I am confessing as I move toward a new success. I once considered myself successful. Today I consider myself in many conventional ways even a bit of a failure—though largely by conscious choice, since I am learning and growing tremendously in the ways that matter most to me.
The upshot of all of this is that although I very much need to earn money and make a living, and educate and support my children in order that they might contribute to the world as well, I simply do not feel I have options. I am honored and appreciative beyond words to have the support of the children, my significant other, my family, and even my former wife I think. They know I am compelled to try to make whatever living I can by doing the only thing that I can possibly do at this juncture, and that is to pursue my passionate search for estimations of truth, and paying even more careful attention to feeding souls as I continue to share my journey out of complete ignorance. I must pursue my edification and my naturalistic ministry of helping others see that there is a difference between being fallible—as we all are—and being told we’re crazy for thinking, facing reality, or abandoning nonsensical prescriptions that insults our intelligence and run contrary to all available evidence.
If despite my continued diligence my effort crashes and burns, at least I will have tried. And I will have lived. And based upon mail I still receive about my novel, and the podcast, I will have connected with humans whom I don’t even really know, but according to them have been helped in some way along their own journey. That would be good enough for me.
So I fear I have much in common with a central character in my novel, who had returned fromVietnamto make millions on Wall Street, but found emptiness in the rewards of having mastered a financial and geopolitical game that didn’t really matter to his soul. He didn’t beg for money. I will try not to. But I will indeed rely upon “offerings”—as well as hopefully sponsorships and advertising—in order to live my mission.
Hard work has never scared me, and I will do what it takes, even if that means delivering proverbial pizzas for a living on the side. That said, my hope is that like everyone I can best give to the world by doing that which is my “bliss” and passion.
And make no mistake, I thoroughly enjoy that moment of cognitive dissonance when I find out yet again that the evidence says I am wrong yet again—and the world works differently than I thought. As withEdisonsearching for a way to make light, every time I find out I’m wrong, or that science has gotten it wrong, I celebrate the openness to new information and bask in the feeling of being one tiny step closer to a humanity better equipped to fix itself and co-exist.
Even if solely as a fellow journeyer, perhaps in some way you can join me in this effort.
(Stephen L. Gibson is a great cocktail party guest, and founder of the truth.bloomfire.com social learning community. He is also the author of A Secret of the Universe, a critically acclaimed, citation-rich novel about the intersections of science, reason, and faith. Steve shares his journey in search of ever-elusive truth via the popular Truth-Driven Thinking podcast program. Steve also posts random thoughts via his Perspectives blog. © 2011, Truth-Driven Strategies LLC.)