A Truth to Die For
Although much as Kierkegaard can be difficult to understand, when you finally get clear on some of the basics in his philosophy what he has to say makes a great deal of sense. At the very least, he produces a lot of really great quotes. Here’s one that I think is central to the project of life as he sees it:
The thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.
What Kierkegaard is trying to get at is this: he thinks that to live a human life you must live it with passion. By passion he doesn’t mean what people tend to misinterpret it to mean — that we have emotions flying around on maximum, or that we are running around trying to cram into our day as much as is humanly possible, or bungee jumping or partying wildly or whatever. Rather, he means that we have to make a “leap of faith” into a type of life (it doesn’t have to be a religious life — he means that any commitment to any kind of life requires a leap of this kind); we have to make a commitment to live as a particular kind of person. A passionate person is on a mission (like in Blues Brothers). And, he thinks, if we do not have a kind of commitment like this that we are willing to live and die for, we aren’t really living, and we surely have no passion.
Kierkegaard would no doubt be critical of life plans that are centered around doing “what one is supposed to do.” So a person goes to college because they are supposed to, they get a job because that’s what you are expected to do, you get married because it seems like a fun thing, you have kids…etc., and then you die one day. Maybe you had fun all that time. Maybe you enjoyed yourself. But to Kierkegaard, if those things did not come together to form the basis of a lifetime commitment that you would die for, you basically never lived. You had no passion, you were dead all along.
Passionate people organize their lives around their commitments. They don’t “waste time” and they don’t treat their lives carelessly.One thing that Kierkegaard does say: if you find that you are the kind of person who gets “bored” a lot, then it’s very likely that you lack passion. Passionate people are never bored. They are quite the opposite — they are always worried that there’s not enough time to complete the projects that are associated with the lives they are busy building. Bored people have no passionate life projects, so the passage of time is painful to them if they aren’t being entertained.
How many of us fail in this regard? How many truly passionate people are there out there? Is he right that this is what living should be?