Ordinary might very well seem to be the enemy. Certainly teenagers seem to devote their lives to being anything but ordinary. Our series is about making the ordinary extraordinary but first we need to ask ourselves exactly what is “ordinary” and how does it relate to our living. This is important because one feedback I received asked who in their right mind would want to be altruistic. In other words, the reader asked, why was I wasting my time writing about ways to do good when I could be writing about important things like ways to age well.
We might think of riddles as a child’s game or a step in developing one’s sense of humor. In classical learning, however, the riddle began a line of thinking. An age old example of this is “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” This riddle was the opening volley posited by Tertullian, one of the very first Christian apologists. Born in Carthage, a Roman province in Africa, Tertullian was a highly educated man and is considered one of the fathers of Western theology. An Apologist was and is someone who asks why we do things, an apology being an explanation and not a confession of guilt excusing one’s actions. The early apologists asked mankind to think before doing and to know what and why they did what they did.
With this rather famous riddle about Athens and Jerusalem, Tertullian was really discussing actions versus being, a different approach to the more modern discussion regarding religions versus spirituality. Tertullian challenged the early followers of the man known as Christ to think about the relationship between their faith and philosophy. Indeed, the very purpose of this blog is to ask ourselves a very similar question.
Athens served as the birthplace of philosophy, that branch of science which delved into the knowledge of conduct and being, based upon rational deductions. There is no way in one blog post I could or should try to answer Tertullian’s riddle or the root questions of philosophy. What I do want to do is celebrate the human spirit and the very act of living.
We still today use philosophy to explain the world and our own actions. Today some might say the riddle has become “What does Chicago have to do with Jerusalem?” since cities influence the world in global affairs and the economy which seems to affect everything. World markets determine not only the goods we have available but their production, cost, and availability. Sociologist Richard Flores describes it this way: “Cities shape and structure our increasingly interconnected planet.” The riddle of living for us is how do we allow the reality of the world to affect our faith and how does that result in our spirituality?
The act of altruism has a very real effect on our brain. When we are engaged in doing good deeds for another, the pleasure centers of our brain become active. Mankind likes doing good! Exactly why is another field of study, again something in which I could not or should not try to answer in a few simple sentences. There are all sorts and types of suggested answers out there. They include kin selection theory which suggests we are more likely to help another when they appear familiar or similar in genetic makeup to our own being, reciprocal resulting feelings which takes note of the fact that since it feels good to do good we continue to engage in charitable acts so that we will continue to feel good. Still others believe that altruism is a rung on the ladder towards developing empathy, a sign of higher thinking.
I suspect that the real answer is combination of all. When we recognize ourselves in another we help out because we would hope someone would help us in a similar situation. There are those people who clamor for attention and helping others is often a great way to receive praise for yourself. Certainly children become more empathetic as they mature. Perhaps our discussion on altruism is not so far off from the readers suggestion I discuss how to age well.
Ordinary time in the ancient church referred to those parts of the liturgy, those elements of worship that did not vary. Combining the many holidays and feasts of various cultures proved difficult. The elders discovered people were more likely to embrace a new way of worship if they recognized some of the practices from their culture. It is no accident that certain high feast correlate to pagan celebrations. This does not detract from their meaning or purpose just as our ancestors living in caves does not mean we cannot live in houses with indoor plumbing.
Writer Mitch Albom has made a living based upon one simple belief: “You can find something truly important in an ordinary minute.” Your day might include a commute so all I am asking is that you make that commute a little more important than it already is by sharing a smile or leaving a good wish for another.
The visionaries of the world are the reason we have indoor plumbing and electricity. “Ordinary people believe only in the possible. Extraordinary people visualize not what is possible or probable, but rather what is impossible. And by visualizing the impossible, they begin to see it as possible.” Perhaps this is Cherie Carter-Scott’s answer to Tertullian.
I would suggest that we not over think this issue, though. Author Ayn Rand has a different take on altruism, believing that altruism suggests no one person has the right to live without doing good for another. I would ask you your thoughts on this. I believe it is impossible to truly live without doing good for another, that the act of maturing well includes such. What do you believe?
Writer William Martin is a scientist and engineer. We already have his answer. “Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.”
Find the joy in living today. The sweet juices of a tomato running out of your mouth, the gentle breeze upon your cheek, sharing a smile with a small child…these are the joys of ordinary living. Delight in the minutes of your present and the extraordinary aspect of them will become evident and contagious. It is, I believe, the very best to way grow and mature. It makes tomorrow possible while celebrating today.