The Purpose of Mankind

What would you say is the purpose of mankind?

I had a fascinating conversation yesterday with a friend of mine about classical education, 18th and 19th century American history, the great pendulum upon which humanity seems to swing and finally, what we both do for a living and why.

My friend, a classically trained equestrian and trainer, lives a life different from my own. His daily responsibilities, privileges and challenges bear no resemblance to mine, yet we discovered today that we share a fundamental and twofold concern to bring: (1) order out of chaos and (2) balance where there is imbalance.

The tools we use to achieve those goals are also unique, yet we both recognize the value of establishing a foundational understanding in both principle and application of the fundamentals. The challenge with foundation-building is that most people underestimate the importance of the phase and it is quite often difficult to perceive holes in the foundation when it is being laid.

Most holes show up later, when the pressure increases. In riding, for instance, slight imperfections in the rider’s seat are not likely to appear as problematic when walking around the ring, but raise the stakes and canter and the imperfections are likely to be magnified, revealing the need to go back a few steps to repair the faulty foundation.

Academic education is no exception to this rule. Classical educators understood the need for a mastery of the basics, the building blocks for all learning. Hence the rigorous focus on Latin and Greek grammar in the early years of schooling. Grammar was followed by logic and logic by rhetoric. The ability to reason was assembled meticulously, piece by piece, and the goal was to create students capable of tackling any question, any issue, any challenge.

Specialization coupled with a narrow focus on the scientific perspective (as opposed to the humanities) completely changed the way we are taught and the way we approach life, which in turn affected how we view life itself. Based on your education up until now, what would you say is your purpose in life? If you’re not sure, do you feels you were given the tools to discover the answer or do you still have a lot to learn?

If your education was anything like mine, that question was probably left unanswered if it was ever even raised. Classical education, on the other hand, had as its central aim the cultivation of a sense of meaning and purpose, coupled with the critical thinking skills necessary to put theory squarely into practice.

Americans in the 18th and 19th century were educated within the framework of classical education. As such, the thread of continuity placed in their hands led back through antiquity, with a particular emphasis on the great leaders and thinkers of both recent and distant history. That thread of continuity, woven into the fabric of their lives, provided a gateway through which resolve, original thinking and the impressive ability to “git’r done” manifested with grace and aplomb in ways that are marvelous to us even now, in our supposedly evolved and advanced state.

Consider the men in the First Continental Congress, for example. They represented the rabble of civilized humanity at the time and yet the delegates found a way to galvanize those for whom they were responsible in an almost unthinkable fashion through the establishment of a new nation. They forged this new nation on the anvil of time, using principles, systems and foundational underpinnings that were utterly foreign to the dominant governing systems of their era (most were monarchies), yet commonly understood and frequently employed by Romans and Greeks who lived thousands of years earlier.

Classical horseback riding follows this pattern. Despite the many fads and popular trends that sweep through the art and science of the equestrian art, the fundamentals remain eerily consistent with those articulated and perfected not just decades or centuries, but ages ago! You cannot gloss over the basics and expect to succeed in the advanced stages of any undertaking.

A strong grasp of the fundamentals greatly decreases the likelihood of veering off course. Humanity, at times, seems to lose sight of the basics and the result is catastrophic. Fanatical regimes rise to power, crazy ideas gain prominence and bickering and feuding take the place of harmonious, complementary and collaborative function.

The challenge throughout history has been to inspire men and women to recognize, dwell in and contribute to the advancement of the sweet spot, the balanced life that sits betwixt the extremes. No matter what you job or role may be at any given time, you as a member of the body of humanity, can help bring order out of chaos, and restore balance where there is imbalance.

Your value, your meaning and the fulfillment of your purpose hang in the balance!

7 thoughts on “The Purpose of Mankind

  1. Ludie Strausbaugh

    Along with almost everything that appears to be developing throughout this specific subject material, all your perspectives tend to be very exciting. On the other hand, I appologize, because I can not subscribe to your entire theory, all be it radical none the less. It appears to me that your comments are generally not entirely validated and in fact you are generally yourself not totally confident of the argument. In any case I did enjoy reading it.

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  2. Pingback: Classical Education: A Primer | Gregg Hake's Blog

  3. Estelle

    There are so many points that really interest me in this post and that I find worthy on a daily basis through your blog. Eleanor Roosevelt used to write daily articles in the same vain. Eventually a selection of those were published in a book. I definitely would enjoy a compilation of your posts in an inspirational book. Thanks for the great blogging!

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  4. Colin

    I think that the way a person is raised and taught profoundly alters their worldview for their entire life. When a civilization changes their method of education, the result is the same. I imagine that this larger picture is often lost in the day to day details of life, and that decisions are made for economic or political reasons that profoundly alter the cultural landscape a few generations later with no one being the wiser at the time. But views can be changed. The fact that those like yourself are able to see that things are changing, or have changed, allows us to begin to patch the foundation that may have holes. We lost the humanities in a push towards science and technology, but it seems like without the foundation of a purpose, things like our science education are dissolving from within because education itself is seen as purposeless by those currently in the system. There are definitely changes that need to be made, and unfortunately I think that will become more obvious as the years go by.

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  5. Lady Leo

    When studing the founding fathers I’ve always noted how familiar they were with the Greek and Roman philosophers and used that education in their everyday decisions.
    If you look back on your own blogs, many of the quotes you used were from Greek and Roman philosophers or the founding fathers. There is a foundation of reason and thought still available to us but now we have to hunt for it ourselves.
    I think once we begin to understand this, the works of philosophers like Plato, Aristotle or Marcus Aurelius become connected and relevant. This is not a history lesson but mentors that left information for us to build on.
    Children today won’t be introduced to these authors in school, maybe a mere mention and expectation to learn some dates connected to them.Judy Blume,Roald Dahl and the like are the foundations we offer right now. There is nothing wrong with contemporary literature, but most outline the problems and offer weak to no solutions. It is up to parents and teachers, who have the flexibility with their lesson plans, to introduce these classical instructors from the past. Let’s ignite our children’s ability to think.
    GREAT post Gregg, thank you.

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