When I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I was caught up, not only in the exquisite writing, but in the existential yearnings of the characters in the story to make sense of their lives, to find an understanding confidante, to live authentically.
Having underlined dozens of passages for review and journaling, I discovered several similar lists online. Who are the people who chose them and uploaded them? I want to meet them. I want to talk about this! And I will definitely start a study journal!
My best friend hated the book, could not finish it! No one else I know has read it. I shall search for a Muriel Barbery/ Hedgehog blog! Or gather up a small group willing to study and discuss it. Have you read it yet?
Meanwhile some interesting ideas and questions have been floating around in the background as I look after other things. Yesterday I wrote about ataraxia as a “big” idea. And I wrote about my parent’s use of challenging questions when they were angry with me… rhetorical questions, always, because they never really wanted to hear an answer.
What is the big idea? Just who do you think you are? Why in the world are you doing that? How dare you say that? Where are you going? Why can’t you just…? Don’t you ever listen? Will you never learn? How many times do I have to tell you? Are you deaf? How can you be so stupid?
My parents were good people. They loved me and wanted me to be good. I don’t think anyone in the 1940’s had heard about children’s self esteem, or would have taken it seriously anyway. But these questions haunt me. And I tried never, NEVER, to use them with my own children or with my students.
School was no better! When we weren’t being idle or chatty or stupid or disobedient, we were SINNERS. That was the global concept, the really “BIG” idea that covered everything else. Every night we made our examination of conscience and said an act of contrition. We were unworthy. I had difficulty accepting that; I still do! I knew that I was trying my hardest to be good and that constantly reviewing my conscience did not make me a more virtuous person, only more worried and perfectionist.
The challenging questions used in discipline when I was a child have stayed with me. They pop up against my will. I use them when assessing my behaviour and relationships. They have become an ineradicable part of my thinking and behaviour. Are they the foundation for the existential uneasiness I feel?
Compare them to the list below of what this website calls “the 6 ultimate questions about human existence”.
1.Who am I? What defines me? Who am I when everything is stripped away from me and I am reduced to a naked lonely soul? Is there anything unique and special about me?
2.How can I be happy? Why am I bored? Why am I so dissatisfied with life? What is the good life? Is this all there is to life?
3.What should I do with my life? How shall I then live? What is my calling? To what should I devote the rest of my life?
4.How do I make the right choices? How do I know that I am making the right decision regarding career and relationships? How can I tell right from wrong?
5.Where do I belong? Why do I feel so alone in this world? How can I develop a deep and meaningful relationship? Where can I find acceptance? Where is my home?
6. What is the point of striving when life is so short? Why should I struggle to survive when life is transient and fragile? What is the point of building something only to see it swallowed up by death?
So there you have it. My childhood questions… the questioning of existentialism… and the questions and answers, spoken and implicit in that charming little book. A desperate adolescent, a lonely old woman, and a successful foreign gentleman… all asking similar questions and helping each other find the answer.
This is one of the most meaningful and charming books I have ever read! Give yourself a treat!