For years I've invited students in my classes and participants in my workshops to make lists of 50 things they love. The exercise has always been an enjoyable and imagination-provoking start to rich conversations about what matters most ... and the question of what we love has proven a helpful springboard into a set of questions vital to making sense of our lives: Who am I? Where do I belong? What do I believe? What are the possibilities and constraints afforded by my time and place? What is to be done?
In recent years the question has become even more important to me, in part because of my personal failures and disappointments in love, and in part because of its significance in books I've been reading. (I blame Heidegger and Augustine.)
I like how Christian Madsbjerg and Mikjel Rasmussen write about the significance of what we love in their book The Moment of Clarity:
"Our greatest asset as humans [has] nothing to do with our ability to follow rules. Humans are human because [we] have a perspective: [we] care about things. One might call it our ability to give a damn. And it is this ability that allows us to determine what matters and where we stand. ...
"The ability to have a perspective - to respond to what matters and what is meaningful - is at the heart of humanity ... . A perspective implies you have prioritized certain things - relevant things - and by consequence let some things go. ... What we can do is respond to what calls us. We can find ourselves committed to a perspective."
Recently, in the weeks around my turning 50, I've been reading James K. A. Smith's You Are What You Love. Smith states his book's thesis in its title and nuances it in various ways throughout its text: "We are what we want. Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behavior flow. ... think of the heart as the fulcrum of your most fundamental longings - a visceral, subconscious orientation to the world. ... To be human is to be on a quest. ... You are what you love because you live toward what you want. ... You are what you love, and you make what you want."
Reading these books in the context of personal and professional turmoil has complicated the question of what I love, and so I will explore that question in these considerations. But, with a twist. In the next months (or however long it takes), I will be asking myself what I love and slowly make a new list of 50 things, but phrasing the question, not in terms of what I already have and love, but in terms of what I want - that for which I yearn, that towards which I am reaching and striving. And then to ask myself what it means that I want what I want.
Starting very concretely, with what is immediately at hand: when my current pen runs out of ink, I want my next pen to be a Stabilo Sensor, with black or blue ink.
I have been writing with Stabilo Sensor pens for more than a decade and a half. I don't remember quite why I first started writing with them, but I know that I love how they nestle in my hand, how their sprung tips flow over paper, how easily and clearly and evenly their ink flows ... and the sheer familiarity of them. I must admit not having pondered the implications of wanting to write with Stabilo Sensor pens much ... after all, these are pens designed in Germany that I buy in Canada or America ... and I have no idea where they are manufactured, or where the raw materials are sourced that are used in their manufacture. Even the smallest of my wants, like these pens, are woven into a complex ecology of social, economic, and political interactions: interactions that matter, and that make up the infrastructure of my desires and my actions.