When I was little, my mum wouldn’t let me join the Brownies. Apparently, in order to join the Brownies you have to swear allegiance to the Queen and to God. This was a no no in our house. My parents were born again atheists (still are), and they hark from a time when we all still had blind faith in the virtues of democratic process (I think, after years of observing the democratic process in action, they are now more appreciative of the Queen).
Without a Religion, my parents near by and not even the Brownies to fall back on for guidance, it all seems pretty obvious that when I left home and started my philosophy degree that I would develop a little crush on Jean-Paul Sartre’s take on Existentialism. (I like to think it was a proper philosophical quest that drew me to Existentialism. In all honesty, Jean-Paul Sartre is a hell of a lot more accessible than the likes of Emmanuel Kant. And I was having sex quite often at university. I did observe that philosophy students who were wooed by acoustic guitar players and had sex, liked Sartre. Those who could not play the guitar and were not having sex seemed to prefer Neitzche.)
It’s pretty hard to sum up the whole of Existentialism. It was more a bit of a vibe. The thing that struck a chord with me, is Sartre’s belief that life pretty much has no meaning. There are no Deity’s, nobody can tell us what to do unless we let them. We are totally free. And that freedom is terrifying. So we have to give life our own meaning. We have to take responsibility.
And ever since realising that, I have been trying to find not the meaning of life, but to understand what gives my life meaning. While I am still trying to work it out, the boys are starting to have questions on what is right and wrong. They wonder how we all got here and where the world came from. They are watching us. They are observing our attitudes and our actions. And our answers to their questions and our attitudes and our actions are informing their little characters and forming their understanding of the world and their hopes and dreams. And I wish more than anything I could pull God out of the bag and say “The world is here because God made it and behave yourself or God’ll get ya”. But I cannot. Because that is not what I believe.
Sartre felt a little bit sick and a little bit terrified when he realised we had all this freedom to determine our own values. Well, that is nothing to how a mother feels when trying to answer the questions of the best philosophers in the world: children.
I want to answer their questions well and wisely. But I don’t feel wise enough. For the past 18 years I’ve been asking questions such “what do I want to be when I grow up?”, “where do I want to live?”, “who do I want to be with?”, “when is the next night out?”, ” “does 5 a day count if you give children 3 portions of grapes and 2 of raisins?”.
I think I need to listen to the kids a bit more. I’ve been asking the wrong questions.
See you next Wednesday!