We live our life based on how we view our life. A view of life is a picture of life within our minds. This picture gives us a framework from where we can answer the basic questions of life. When we say life is a journey, we are using a view of life to interpret our life experience. Sometimes we say life is a battle. We also compare life to a dream, a game, a movie, and so on.
Our view of life has as its basis our worldview. A worldview is a picture of the world within our mind. We live our life in the world as a part of the world. That is why our worldview serves as the foundation of our view of life. Our view of life includes our worldview just like a building includes its foundation. When we say the world is a family or a kingdom, we are using a worldview. Recently the world has been seen as a huge machine.
We internalize our view of life primarily by direct experience of life. A quicker way is to learn from the accumulated experiences of others, especially from the accumulated wisdom from our ancestors. In childhood, we depend heavily on our cultural inheritance. As we grow older we begin to evaluate the inherited wisdom with our direct experience. When we get to a new city, a map will help us move around. The map was originally made by those who directly experienced the city. As we get more familiar with the city, we obtain more direct experience, with which we can evaluate an existing map, and we can even make a better map. As our direct experience gets wider and deeper,
- We realize that our neighbors belonging to other cultures/communities have their own views of life different from ours. It is like they speak almost a different language with different terminology and categories of thought. This could be very perplexing; how can there be several different maps for the same city?
- We also realize that the worldview on which our view of life rests is outdated. Science and Philosophy keep on refining our worldview, but our community is very reluctant to give up the outdated worldview probably because it is not easy to give up the very foundation on which our view of life rests. We are afraid that once we give up our outdated worldview, it will cause our view of life to collapse, and thus our life will be in jeopardy.
Any sensible growing young person will find it hard to face the challenges from other religions and from science, and develop a view of life as the foundation of his/her own life. He/she will have strong temptation to give up his/her own mother life- view (original view of life), and embrace a totally different one, which would mean leaving one’s own community and joining a new one. This process could be as unproductive as moving a plant from one place to another. We also see a lot of young people leave their mother life-views, and live their life without having any stable view of life as the foundation to their lives.
In totalitarian regimes, people are forced to stay with a certain view of life. In such situation, people don’t have the freedom to get exposed to diverse views of life and grow. They remain with a view of life based on an outdated worldview inherited from their ancestors. Many more people live without any freedom of thought within the constraints of their culture or religion. In the rest of the world, people have the freedom to explore diverse views of life and follow whichever view they want as long as they do not hurt their fellow beings.
In the free world, adults universally enjoy the freedom to explore the diverse views of life, but not all children. In places like Britain and India, children have the opportunity to learn about the various views of life in schools as a part of their formal education. In the United States, however, children are not exposed to the diverse views of life in their formal education. They are expected to learn this on their own, informally. In schools, they are taught to read, write, and think, and with those skills, they are given the freedom to read, write, and think whatever they want. Although this may look like freedom, it is doubtful if it is the ideal thing to do. It seems that the children grow up very much handicapped in their knowledge of how to view their life. By denying the opportunity to children to get exposed to the traditional views of life, the US seems to be promoting certain superficial views of life that lack a firm foundation. Children grow up under the impression that anything that is not a part of formal education is either not worth learning or false information. I believe that leaving out from the formal education the most important thing that they need to know might be viewed as a form of child abuse.
This is the context of my recent book, An Orientation to our Life. In this book, a group of young people seek answers to some questions about life, and thus they try to formulate a view of life. An older, wise person helps them in this process. For each question, he shows them the answers given by the forefathers in their own community. He asks them to use the answers of the forefathers as a model and formulate their own answers. He shows them how they can learn from other communities and views of life. He also shows them how to be open to the contemporary science and philosophy, and evolve a view of life that fits the changing worldview. To put it differently, he helps them understand an existing map, and encourages them to modify it by their own observation, and by comparing it with other existing maps.
If this person gave his own answers, it would be brainwashing. He doesn’t want to impose his own views of life upon them. Neither does he ask them to accept the view of life of the forefathers unquestioningly. Thus he doesn’t want the young people get brainwashed at all. He acts as a facilitator. He does not give ready-made answers; he merely helps the young people find their own answers. Wherever he gives his own answers, they are presented as his opinions rather than as absolute facts.
I think this rabbi is a role model for all educators. All teachers, priests, pastors, Imams, and gurus need to follow this example. Let them refrain from imposing their views on others, especially young people. By presenting this Rabbi as a role model, An Orientation to our Life is an excellent tool of education that enhances freedom and a meaningful existence.