The real voyage of discovery is seeing it with new eyes (Clarity part 2)

December 21, 2010

In researching for my end-of-year vacation, I shortlist and dream of Phnom Penh, Hanoi and Vientiane.  I think of the exotic foods I would have, the enriching encounters, and the images that’ll burn in my memory, but when I recount my travels friends point out that I seem to take unneccessary risks – that in my mind the dark and mysterious alley is always the more potentially interesting path to take.   I am reminded of the base reason in why I do it, and it condenses to just one word – discovery. From the way one travels, and how he reacts to each encounter, is a reflection of how his world view is formed.  Discovery may not necessary be always about looking for new things, but perhaps the ability to look at things and places and people in a new way.

Recently I have also been thinking about morality, and by extension, about values and principles. I have been prompted by the Daphne Iking case making the rounds in the papers and a book I have been reading; Robert Musil’s post modernist classic, a man without qualities.  It is a slow and ponderous book, depicting lives in pre-world war 1 vienna. The protaganist is the man without qualities, a hard thinking intellectual who is however ambivalent towards morals and laissez faire in his relationships. I then wonder about myself – can a person be at once morally upright and yet careless with it?

Suppose at one extreme we all know instinctively that all murder are morally wrong, but on the other the fruitarians would scream “meat is murder!” (some would wait for fruits to fall from trees).  Somewhere in between these 2 extremes are where lines are blurred where things are morally acceptable. I have friends who stay in loveless marriages because they should “never stop trying”, I also have friends have tried enough, who stopped and then tried to salvage what is left of their lives, in the hope that they will lead better, more fulfilling lives in the future. Who is to judge them? Why impose our views on their decisions? Is there a right or wrong? And ultimately whose values, principles or morals were broken?

But sometimes it is the process in which one takes towards a certain end is where one is judged.  Do you rectify a wrong with another wrong to make it right? If your neighbour’s wife is in that loveless marriage, is it right for you to covert her? Is Daphne Iking malicious, or simply confused?  She may yet only be accused of that greater crime- of not taking a stand, of not being firm.  In life there is a certain way one should see and do things, and yet there are no certainties. Daphne, when faced with a perplexing choice, should have just taken a stand, that risk, and chosen early. In not doing so, it is only the innocent who suffers.

And then, making a choice at that fork in the road is relatively easy, but to stay on that road with conviction requires strength of will.

Perhaps the alternate title of this post could also be; the real voyage of discovery is seeing it from within. Credit to Proust.

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