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Instrumentality

by on June 21, 2017

                                                                             Instrumentality

                                                                           by Marco M. Pardi

“We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours.” Dag Hammarskjold (1905-1961)

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All comments welcome.  To those readers who have been hesitant to comment or ask questions, please be assured you may do so freely. In recent days several new people have signed on as followers, enabling them to comment freely, and it is hoped they will. All previous posts are open for comment by clicking on “uncategorized”. Reader participation keeps this site vibrant. MMP

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I have never paid the slightest attention to holidays or So-&-So’s Day, or whatever.  But fatherhood being the single most important event and development in my life this – just passed – father’s day once again got me thinking.

Ever look back on the events in your life and think, I could not possibly have been the designer of all those events? Some seem to have been composed and orchestrated by something other. Deists will see that as a god and non-deists may see it as some sort of cosmic dynamic.  The contrast is between being in the palm of a god’s hand versus being the ball in a pin ball machine.

So, you stepped from the platform onto the tracks to watch a just departed train recede into the distant tunnel when suddenly you are scooped from behind by the next incoming train.  But this one doesn’t stop at the station. It goes out through the tunnel onto the world playing field, gathering speed slowly, and what had previously appeared as a single track into the distance is now a myriad of an infinite number of tracks, some as dead ends, many with twists and turns and switches too complex to follow, and most which seem to go on far out of sight.  Welcome to Life. 

Time passes very slowly at first. The school year goes on forever, summer vacation never ends – until it does. And things happen to you. Then, at some point you come to think you make things happen, you alone are responsible for the rights and wrongs in your life.  And later you look back and conclude you alone could not possibly have made many, if not all of those things happen.  You were something of a piece in a great board game. So what has it all been about? 

One of the earliest philosophical quandaries I remember from monastic boarding school was God’s purported omniscience versus free will.  I’m sure most of us remember the question: If God knows everything ahead of time, how can we sin? We are only doing what he already knows we will do, and we can’t make him wrong.  Later, I would encounter this in the secular version, Determinism versus Free Will.  The quandary does not go away simply because one leaves the belief system where one first learned of it.

Indeed, the quandary has been with us throughout recorded history, whether in the belief in the stars, the Fates, Newton’s clockwork universe, or the various morality based religions and philosophies. But realizations in the 1920’s of the quantum, sub-atomic world have intensified arguments of random versus determined, even clouding the sacrosanct dichotomy we know as cause and effect.  Newton’s apple, existing in our macro world, certainly did fall to earth as every apple thereafter verifies.  But the coalescence of the sub-atomic particles of which the apple is ultimately made is a matter of probability, not certainty. As is the temporary arrangement of particles we call the hand, which dropped the apple.

In our developmental journey from Things Happen to Me to I Alone Make Things Happen we enter the quicksand of egocentric thinking.  Indeed, even while wandering the board and realizing the inter-relationship of other people in our lives we run the risk of self primacy: Those people were put in our lives for a purpose (meaning: those people were mere instruments to serve a purpose for me).

Through years of teaching former students have told me what an impact I had on their lives.  I’ve always wondered if they sensed what an impact they had on mine. I always disliked the term Teacher.  To me it implies an elitist I know and you don’t attitude. I much prefer the term Facilitator, as in facilitating the entry of the students into areas of thinking they may not have been aware of before.  What they conclude, and how they employ those conclusions are life choices for them to make, not for me to make for them.

A former colleague of mine, when asked the status and likely outcome of an ongoing field operation, had a quaint reply: We won’t know ’til the dust settles and the pieces fall out.  I always saw that as a metaphor for the later, contemplative years of life.  The dust of a hectic life is settling, and the pieces are almost all accounted for. The trick, of course, is to see and understand not just the where and the what of the pieces but that an individual event was not over when movement stopped.  The event carried on into how we saw and handled the next event, thus forming a bond between the two even if separated by many years. Now, compound that thought with the matrix of all the events, large and small in your life, recognizing that while you may not know all the where’s and the what’s, you have been instrumental in the lives of others as others have been instrumental in yours.

But the emphasis on social environment has its dangers. For many years trial juries have been asked to consider the childhood of the accused.  The Defense puts on a great operetta of inner-city life, no father figure, familial substance abuse, and on and on but never widens the lens to show the almost countless others from similar or closely identical backgrounds that are not standing in a courtroom accused of a crime.  A standard line for characterizing a first encounter with a psychiatrist is: So, tell me about your mother.  By any objective measure my daughter is a profound thinker, accomplished scholar, exemplary medical provider, and model parent.  Being honest, I see very little of my influence, in a direct way, in her profile.  During her formative years I was often hundreds or thousands of miles away, seeing her when I could and phoning her when possible.  On the other hand, her relationship with her mother was quite negative.

A child, of any age, might take father’s day to examine and appreciate the instrumentality of its father in its life but a father has the advantage of the longer view which examines and appreciates the instrumentality of the child throughout his parental life.  My daughter has most certainly been the greatest influence on my life.  Why don’t we have a Child’s Day, to memorialize what our children have done for us?

Although the idea is perhaps as old as Man, an increasing number of modern scientists are moving strongly toward the Conscious Universe concept.  This in no way proposes or supports the idea of a personified entity we could call a God. And I certainly do not subscribe to such a personified entity. But I simply cannot escape the conclusion that themes have been operant throughout my life that I have been only a part of, an instrument called to play only certain notes; I am not the soloist.  Indeed, growing older has afforded me a new freedom: the freedom to say, “I can’t do that anymore.” What a liberating feeling. 

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10 Comments
  1. This makes me smile; it is as near as I have ever known you to believe in something. My smile comes from seeing how close your thoughts are coming to my own. I have long believed in a universal knowledge from which we all draw. I believe that those things which most change our lives (like parenthood) are destined, while the small things, and the way in which we respond to the larger ones, are under our control. We have had this conversation before.

    You were certainly my facilitator when it came to verifiable information, but I begin to see the ways in which we have been sensei to one another, especially since the rebirth of our friendship. I never allowed myself the luxury of calling it that in the beginning, but it is surely true now. The knowledge you imparted to me has made it possible for me to help others, but it is the simple conversations we have shared which have made the larger impact. I am stronger, braver, and more independent because you have told me it is possible.

    Ironically, the phrase “I can’t do this anymore,” has become my latest mantra.

    • Thanks so much, Rose. I’m still unsettled on the dynamic of individuality and Allness. But I wholeheartedly agree on the mutual roles we have played in each other’s lives. As I implied above, those long ago conversations we had were crucial to me, and still are – in ways I have yet to fully see. Exploration is the dynamic of life.

      • Somehow, the universe has engineered not only its own self-awareness, but its own self-comprehension. It is hard to see this astonishing property of (at least some) living organisms as an accidental and incidental by-product of physics, a lucky fluke of biological evolution.

        Paul Davies

  2. You have written of your daughter, implying that you have had little to do with how she turned out beyond a biological contribution; I beg to differ. While it is true that necessity kept you apart much of her young life, I doubt that she has ever known a heartbeat of doubt that you loved her. Her beauty and intelligence are due in part to your DNA, her compassion and strength of character are due to your example. You’ve taught her to be true to herself, and that it’s okay to take a risk; I know this because these are the lessons you have shared with me.

    I can’t imagine thinking of you as a father, but I have been blessed by the universe to have you as a friend.

  3. Ray Z Rivers permalink

    I’ve always thought of humans as mere creatures, like ants, in this great universe of which we know so little. God is a construct that I only hope exists but I have no aspiration for a after life – the logistics of such nonsense boggles my tiny mind (very tiny mind in the scale of the universe).

    I do believe I have taught things to others and been respected for my pedagogical efforts, but I agree with your concerns about the presumption of being a sage – what’s in a title anyway.

    We do all learn from contact with others, at least we do if we have our eyes open… and you certainly do have your eyes open my friend.

    Ray

    • Thank you, Ray. I can well imagine that in your field it would be impossible to teach, as you have, without being a sage or at least an extremely well versed authority. And that level of competence, although misused and misapplied by many others, was surely regulated in your case by what I have come to see as your awareness of your own competence and your willingness to enlarge it through contact with others. I would have liked being a student of yours.

  4. This was very interesting to read, Marco. Elegantly written, with some very stimulating points of thought.

    Did you know that they actually have “Children’s Day” in some cultures? For example, in South Korea, it’s on May 5th. It’s pretty great actually. 🙂

    As for the whole Universe-Instrumentality theme, I wouldn’t know exactly where to stand on the Determinism vs Free Will spectrum, but I like how you put it, especially towards the end.

    • Thank you, Psy. I’m glad to see you back. I did not know about South Korea’s Children’s Day. What a marvelous idea. Reading your blog I can see you working through the Determinism vs. Free Will quandary. That shows a rare awareness. If you solve it, promise to let me know.

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