The Map of Life
There is a certain mystique attached to things that are lost. Lost worlds, lost treasures, and lost civilizations loom in our imaginations. We attach more value to a thing when it is lost than when it is right in front of us. How many of us only stop to think about our keys when we can’t find them?
Being lost yourself is far less appealing. There are few worse feelings than not knowing where you are or where you are going. Some people claim they like to be lost. They say they are like tumbleweeds blowing across the desert. The truth is, they just don’t know any better.
It is terrifyingly easy to get lost in the world. We can get lost in the geographical sense, not knowing exactly where we are on the planet. We can also get lost in more abstract ways. “Where am I in space?” is an easy question compared to, “Where am I in life?”
Eventually, we all reach a point in our lives, or several points, where we don’t know what to do next. Quarter-life and mid-life crises are popular phrases these days. I say all of life is a crisis when you don’t know where you are.
There are many ways to deal with being lost. Some people plop down and sit still, like a rock. Eventually, someone will come along and find them if they stay in one place.
Other people are more ambitious, but still just as lost. They get up and search for a way out. But if you take a step in the dark, or ten steps, or a hundred, you will still be in the dark. They don’t know where they’re going. They don’t know where they’ve been. And while it isn’t impossible, the constant shuffle means it is unlikely someone will find them. Just because you are lost doesn’t mean you can’t get more lost.
And then there is the rare person who is prepared. When striking out in the world he does the right thing and brings a map.
There are all types of different maps. Topographic maps, political maps, chinsy tourist map from the local chamber of commerce. Cursed maps that are impossible to fold, and app maps for your phone.
Each type of map is used for a different purpose. Knowledge is the map of life.
The important parts of a map are the compass, to give direction, the legend to identify objects, and important landmarks to give context.
Knowledge provides all three of these functions when traversing through life. Knowledge can tell you much more than cardinal directions. It can tell you where you are going, based on where others have been before. Along with north and south, knowledge can help you determine what is good and bad, right and wrong.
No matter what direction you head in, you will encounter challenges, obstacles, and plain old objects. Knowledge lets you know what these things are. With knowledge, you can tell the difference between a toilet and a trashcan, a goose and a duck, or a con-man and a philosopher.
But its more than just things you will encounter. Ideas are just as present, and just as dangerous. What sounds like the truth might actually be a lie. What sounds like a lie might actually be a policy of the federal government. How can you tell between salvation and exploitation? Well, you can’t really, but general knowledge is a good place to start.
Most importantly, knowledge provides points of reference in what would otherwise be an indiscernible landscape. When you are lost in the woods, a mountain, tall tree, or camp can provide a solid stationary place from which to explore your surroundings. And you can explore without getting more lost.
Like a landmark, knowledge provides points of reference for life. You will often find yourself in novel situations. But really, they are probably at least sort of like something you have experienced before.
Knowledge is not the only map for life. Many religions, ideologies, and Internet forums, can serve the same purpose. But these are all guides you buy in the proverbial gas station, made by cartographers that may or may not be reliable.
Knowledge is the best map for life, because it is the only map that is being actively filled in all the time. By you. If you know something, you can learn something else. And your map is a little more useful. As long as you remember your map, and you don’t freak out, you will never be that lost. Always able to return home.
Of course, some people will have maps that are better, worse, or simply different than others. But with the pursuit of knowledge we all have the opportunity to make our own chart and plot our own course. Or not. Its up to you.