Pascal writes, “The greatness of man is so obvious that it can be deduced even from his misery. What is natural in animals is seen to be wretchedness in man. From this we can recognize that since his nature today resembles that of the animals, he has fallen from a better state which in former times was more appropriate to him. Who does not feel more unhappy at not being a king except a king who has been deposed?...Who considers himself unhappy because he possess only one mouth? Yet who would not be unhappy if he had only one eye? No one, perhaps, has ever taken it into his mind to fret over not have three eyes. But man is inconsolable if he has no eyesight.
“So man’s greatness comes from knowing that he is wretched, for a tree does not know it is wretched. Thus it is wretched to know that one is wretched, but it is a sign of our true greatness to know that we are wretched.” [Pages 82 and 83, Mind on Fire, cited in previous posts].
If we didn’t seek constant entertainment and diversion we might reflect on who we are; we might consider the dichotomy between good and evil that lies within us; we might ask why we have the capacity to act like angels one moment and devils the next; why we are capable of self-sacrifice at 9:00 AM and of inflicting harm on others at 9:05 AM.
We might also consider why things like a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment are important to us, whether we are an elementary-school child taking a spelling test or an employee receiving an annual review. Why do we want this year to be better than last year? If our names are in the paper recognizing an accomplishment why do we want others to see it? Why do we seek to love and be loved? Where does anger come from, not anger from bodily injury, but anger from wounded pride, from hurtful words, from a social slight?
Why do we seek something better today than we had yesterday? Why does the loss of position or of things distress us? Why this capacity for both good and evil, for right and wrong? Why does it matter what others think of us?
Why do stories of heroes and heroines and adventure and danger and overcoming impossible odds appeal to us? Why does it matter whether there is justice and redemption in novels and movies? Why do these things draw us and touch our hearts, reaching down into our souls?
What do people want and why do they want it? To listen to people, to ask questions, and then to ask more questions; we can serve those around us by asking questions – but then we must serve them again by listening without distraction.
Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost; to save the lost we must know where they are; to know where they are we must ask questions. We live and work with people but we do not know where they are, they might as well be on the other side of the earth, we see them but we do not know them. Why is that?
In a society with noise and noise and more noise, questions that quiet the soul and mind, that invite reflection, that require more than an answer in a game of trivia – those are the questions that matter.
A line of questions we can ask people is, “Where do these desires for greater things come from? How can we be angels one moment and devils the next? Why do we want to be more than we are?”