Fly on the Wall—Fear and Trembling and Giving Our Perspectives a Shake

Fly on the Wall—Fear and Trembling and Giving Our Perspectives a Shake

Ever spin a globe with eyes closed, your trembling index finger hovering expectantly before landing randomly on the sphere?  At this moment of halt, the whole world seems available as a next place to travel.  Yet, to discover a single location is to in a sense temporarily exclude all others.  Distance education is like that too; our studies perambulate through dense weaves of course material as our private journey becomes more and more our own.

Another form of random purposiveness that I’d suggest to all and sundry is the old pick a random book from a shelf.  It could be a library shelf or a stack at home but the key is to just up and snatch a book and open it to a random page.  Or failing that, maybe type in a random philosopher and see how personal her or his writing can appear?

A recent online foray into the pell-mell jungle of philosophers at a bite led me to Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) and his book on my shelf titled Fear and Trembling (an apt title for we at AU pondering the existential dread of deadlines and due dates!) His name literally translates into Cherry Garden and some plum beauties emerge from his ominously-titled bookHere’s one choice plum from the quote highlight cornucopia: “Faith is namely this paradox that the single individual is higher than the universal” (online).

Faith: Excellence Begins with Prioritizing Ourselves

Faith in our abilities underpins all that we do at AU; we start by believing we can accomplish something special in our studies and that means believing our own press releases, per se.

Our academic journey at AU is nothing if not a personal experience—as private and unique as that serendipitous moment when we decide to travel to a certain locale or make some key life decisions.  We’re free to make our own mistakes and to learn our own lessons with nary a safety net consisting of a gaggling cohort of fellow in-class students.  With temerity, we embark on perhaps the greatest voyage of all: self-discovery through education.  Kierkegaard provides a rejoinder, “If anyone on the verge of action should judge himself according to the outcome, he would never begin.  Even though the result may gladden the whole world, that cannot help the hero; for he knows the result only when the whole thing is over, and that is not how he became a hero, but by virtue of the fact that he began.” (online).

The Other Side of the Personal Coin

Okay, so having ourselves at the centre of our private universe can be an awful lot of pressure.  Perspective and humility are a good idea too, and a form of self preservation when the going gets a bit touchy.  After all, no mark or course is going to make or break our future selves.  A long accumulation of choices and decisions and passions will bring us to our destiny.  Life itself, after all, is a mere flicker in the abyss of space and time.  Nature shows us the way that all that grows shall shortly pass away.  Chief Crowfoot (1830-1890), of whom I recently was tragically reminded at the Memorial of a young man whose life ended far too quickly, reminds us to have a healthy sense of place in nature and the cosmos:

“What is life?
It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
It is the little shadow which runs across
the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” (online).

Finally, as contract dates and the perpetual pressures of time management in distance education weigh down upon us, it helps to recall that deep time (for physicists) and eternity (for philosophers) amount to an abyss so wide as to be uncountable, so deep as to be unfathomable.  Lest our procrastination gets us down, we’re wise to recall that whatever we do or don’t do in life is personally important—but not vital; or at least not life and death in the broadest of pictures.  The all-time best selling book, The Bible, arguable the baseline text for philosophy in the Western world, provides this quote as a comment on the universe and or God (Spinoza aptly termed this synthesis of cosmos of deity God-or-Nature):

“You turn people back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.

Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered.” (online).

In the end, the ashes of our ambition alight on the breeze of eternity as surely as does the wasted moments of our indolence.  Just as our studies provide both a pretext and a postscript to our development along our personal river of life, Kierkegaard reminds us to reflect on our past such that we never fail to recall our successes and failures as a means to growth:

“Only the lower natures forget themselves and become something new.  Thus the butterfly has entirely forgotten that it was a caterpillar, perhaps it may in turn so entirely forget it was a butterfly that is becomes a fish.” (online).

There’s no bad spot to land our finger on the globe of potential, the only real failure is to not embark fearlessly and vigorously on a course (no pun intended) of our choosing.  We can all recall that without rain there are no rainbows, and without challenges there can be no authentic development, least of all in our intellects as students.

Crowfood(1800s/2007)‘Crowfoot: Life is a Flash of a Firefly in the Night’Retrieved from
Kierkegaard, S.  (1800s).  ‘Fear and Trembling Quotes’.  Retrieved from
Psalm 90.  (1489).  The Bible.  Retrieved from and
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