Essay on Experience

Written in 2000.

There may be a first time for everything, but it’s the third time that’s the charm.

Mankind is plagued with a near Siddharthan desire for experience.  Phrases like “you never know until you try” and “just do it” are all too familiar beckonings, seeking to draw us into the arms of experiential awareness.  In a world that promotes diversity and community, empathy and understanding, exposure to everything is held in high esteem.  “With experience comes wisdom” becomes the battle cry of life.  But is it a holy war that is being fought?

I have heard it said that one does not gain knowledge of evil by immersion in it, but rather by full recognition of goodness and truth, so that any perversion becomes glaringly obvious.  Our own government follows this paradigm in the training of Secret Service agents, widely known to never handle counterfeit money but rather to become so intimately familiar with legal tender that forgeries are immediately identified as such.

It seems that people are not satisfied with “leaving well-enough alone” or not attempting to fix what does not appear broken.  The quest to determine the validity of “try it, you’ll like it” seems irresistibly compelling for many.  Is it wrong to satiate such curiosity?  Is it wrong to garner the necessary information in order to make a well-informed decision on the merits of something?  In the age of information, comparison shopping, and reduction of waste, surely such practices cannot be condemned.

If that were really the motivation.

It’s no mystery that people like to make excuses, and the more noble the purported basis, the more easily that questionable ideas are overlooked.  Is one time ever enough?  Are we not told: “if at first you don’t succeed—try, try again?”  Where are the standards for success?  Perhaps practice makes perfect, but can it be reasonably expected to make everything perfect, even the most defiled, perverted practice?  Can perfection exist where goodness does not?

Maybe one should just begin with the assumption that all things take time, that anything worth doing is worth doing right, and worth spending the time on.  How long does it take to determine the worthwhileness?  Does experience allow for the immediate recognition of fruitless pursuits, or should one jump right in with both feet and see what happens?  Do we look before we leap?  How far ahead?

Perhaps, less cynically, it should just be recognized that things take time.  It’s okay to stumble along the way of life’s journey.

Do the ends justify the means, or the meantime?


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