The Importance of the Journey

By John Rush

“Life is a journey, not a destination” reflected Ralph Waldo Emerson. In many ways Emerson captured a quintessential aspect of what it means to be an American – a key cornerstone of American Democracy – an ability, a commitment, a resolve to relish the circular nature of pursuing truth, justice and love. 

Building on the philosophical legacy of Emerson, later pragmatists would suggest that democracy isn’t the means to a particular end but the end itself. The purpose of the grand experiment is to keep the experiment going – the cornerstone has engrained on it in big, bold letters, “DIALOGUE.”

The net result of such circularity is an experiential longing that is both hedonistic and exhilarating. The irony is a tendency for the maximization of narcissism coupled with a dark shadow of doubt because any sense of destination – even as a possibility – is long forgotten as one wanders on the ocean of a journey that never ends. 

Before you think this is a negative reflection it is actually very promising and inspiring! The daring narcissism flows from the lips of a sage as he whispers the spirit of Disney into the ears of his granddaughter, “You can be anything you want to be!” The dark shadow of doubt allows for the continuous construction of universities of tenure, publications of books and periodicals, institutions and desperate calls for conversation – yes, “DIALOGUE!”

The nature of things allows us to give pause and to express thanks for a cultural context wherein there is a longing for continuous conversation and dialogue. Such a culture has, as a result, not only the joy of the journey to nowhere but also a strange twist! 

The twist is an innate self-criticism that, despite the narcissism and despite the doubt there is confidence in a better way – a better realization of justice, a better realization of peace, a better realization of equality, a better realization of human flourishing and so on. But how is that possible? 

How is it possible that within the apparent natural order of things there can be a circular journey to nowhere characterized by self-absorption and doubt yet simultaneously echoes the screams that such and such is not “just” or “right” or that such and such can’t be President or should be President, etc!?

Perhaps there is a destination? Perhaps there is some idea that can shed light on the journey and give it some sort of telos – a telos it often lays claim to already in the way in which it speaks, reacts and acts.  

Perhaps life is a journey but, in fact, a journey with a particular destination. If so, what might be the implications for you and I? 

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