Since the beginning of the human race, both those who believe in the concept of some sort of a supreme force, be it God, Buddah, Muhammad or any other of a myriad of ancient and present day deities, and those who are non-believers have pondered the moral absolutes of right and wrong. More precisely, many wonder about the consequences of doing things that are wrong and the concept of being rewarded, in this life or the next, for doing good deeds. With all of this in mind, philosophers, writers and poets have devoted huge amounts of intellectual effort to the same.
An excellent example of a modern day writer who has done this is Cynthia Ozick. In her now classic essay, Out from Xanadu, she has created in the existence of Xanadu, not necessarily a physical location as one would find on a map, but rather a mindset of human behaviors. In fact, it can fairly be said that Xanadu is a “place” of moral nothingness, as evidenced by this quote from the essay: “In Xanadu, the Ten Commandments do not even exist” (Ozick).
My personal journey, both physical and moral, has likewise found me in the midst of exploring not only what I will choose to do with my life in terms of profession, vocation or the like, but also where I fit into the human race and the so-called “grand scheme of the universe” as a deep thinker like Ozick would likely put it (Wallace). Having taken the beginning steps of a personal conversion on many levels, the ideas that shape my life have become quite extensive and have taken a course that has led me to be much more introspective and aware of the world around me at the same time in a strange paradox of isolation and extroversion.
In this essay, I will take a closer look at the ideas that shape my life and also fit into my cultural origins and the person that I will eventually become. Therefore, this essay will not only be a general discussion, but also autobiographical in some respects as well. Who am I/Who I Am? The title of this section of my essay is not a typographical error; in fact it is far from it. What the title represents is a survey of who someone would find me to be if they merely looked at the physical attributes of what I look like and what I do on a daily basis.
Taking things a step further, the title also means that I have begun to think about who I will become- physically, morally and philosophically. To begin, if the average person were to only look at me from a photograph or short biography, one would find a 21 year old from Hong Kong, studying at a community college and trying to gain on the most basic level what all logical thinking human beings want out of life- an education in order to broaden my intellectual horizons while at the same time providing me the knowledge and skills that I will then be able to convert into talent.
This talent will be something that an employer, be it an individual or one of the largest companies in the world would in turn pay me to use for the benefit of their organization- large or small. The money that I would receive in this example would provide me with physical comfort and security- food, shelter, clothing, and so forth. On a psychological level, the job and the money will give me self esteem, a sense of worth, and the feeling that I will be able to survive in a world full of poverty and despair.
This, in a way, will allow me to be able to cope with the harsh realities that the world beyond what I know from Hong Kong is sure to bring to me as my international experiences continue to increase. Ironically enough, my initial pursuit of material wealth and the things that it brings starts to shape the first part of my life- a moral questioning of the obtaining of material things and wealth itself. The Central Idea Emerges If I were to conduct my life as if I lived in Xanadu, physically or morally, this first struggle would be a simple one. Without rules to live by, there are essentially no consequences for the breaking of any rules.
Therefore, no matter what happens, I would be able to pursue any or all of my monetary needs without limits. This is not realistic, however. The writing of this essay has opened my mind to the fact that I am much more complex than just a creature that only needs food, shelter and clothing to be whole. All the more I think about it, a central idea has emerged which I firmly believe will shape my life today, tomorrow and for the rest of my life- the idea that there must be an evaluative process, based on what is to be gained as well as whether the actions taken to gain something are right or wrong.
How the Idea Will Unfold It would seem that I have found what many have called a moral compass, which is to say that I have realized at a fairly young age that while the world holds endless possibilities for someone like me, it also holds many pitfalls that have consumed many who have come before me if for no other reason than due to the philosophy that the reckless pursuit of material gain without any consideration of right or wrong and consequences will surely lead one to a fast road of ruin, unless they take the time to weigh their actions against a moral template.
This recognition of who I am and who I want to become. The person that I want to become is not necessarily someone whom others fear, dislike or even like. My goals and ideas reach far beyond these borders. Rather, this ultimate understanding of right and wrong is going to reinforce my belief in my original idea. When studying the works of writers like Ozick, one gets the distinct impression that the human experience should not merely be defined by abstract beliefs in religion.
Neither should it be a selfish pursuit of whatever someone wants for themselves without realizing that others may be hurt in the process. It would be more accurate to say that the human experience should be one of enjoyment, but also of restraint. This is at the heart of my ideas. With my ideas in mind, the essay concludes with a reinforcement of the belief system that first gave life to my ideas in the first place.
Conclusion A logical conclusion to this essay will be a brief explanation of why I believe the ideas that I have laid out in this essay, and which are based on the writings of Ozick, universal philosophies that are as old as time itself, and a fair amount of introspection on my part. First, the idea that I must have some sort of moral guidance in any decision that I make in my life is not only a matter of protecting me from the adverse outcome of breaking the established rules and laws of society, but also a matter of being true to me.
In the final analysis, if one is not able to look at themselves in the mirror in the morning, very little else matters. In other words, there is a huge difference between being able to buy the most comfortable bed in the world and being able to have a good night’s sleep. Aside from the legal consequences of bad behavior, the universal idea that there may be punishment after this physical life for bad deeds committed in this world has likewise influenced my belief in these ideas. My private faith, for the purposes of this essay, will remain just that- private.
What will not remain private for the purposes of this essay, however, it my personal belief that the penalty for bad behavior extends beyond the physical limits of this mortal life that human beings enjoy and take for granted all too often. As such, I have united the physical and spiritual worlds into an overall system of ideas that may not make me the richest person in the financial sense but will surely enrich my life in ways that money, fame or power never could. Finally, I have reached my own Xanadu- on my own terms.
Courtney from Study Moose
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