Ideas & Short Essays
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Finding the key, searching the darkness

I came across this intriguing Sufi story while reading Jenny Diski’s memoir, In Gratitude. Here it is:

A Mulla was searching for a lost key under a street light, slowly crawling around. A friend happened by and immediately dropped down on his hands and knees to join the search.

“Do you remember where you last saw your key,” the friend asked, after a few minutes.

“Of course I do,” replied the Mulla. “Over there,” he said, pointing to a distant, dark side street.

“Why are you looking here?” asked the friend, perplexed.

“Because there’s so much more light here by the lamp.”

There are many intriguing applications to this parable, many have an individual emphasis, a spiritual/psychological application: go to the dark places within, the places you want to avoid, in order to discover truth about yourself.

In a more general sense, though, the story speaks to our tendency to search for answers among ideas that are familiar, well-lit. This is often what keeps Americans tethered to Democrats or Republicans, or falling back on capitalsim, without seriously engaging the issues. It’s human, of course, all too human. For ordering their daily affairs, humans prefer the familiar. I can relate.

What’s interesting about these days is that there seems to be an small opening in our culture to question convention and discuss alternative ideas. Hence we have the MeToo movement, Women’s Marches, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the Bernie movement, along with others. Activists have always been pushing this agenda, but at the moment, we find ourselves in the midst of something a bit different, culturally.

Ideas that were once fringe are circulating in the mainstream conversation, this is particularly true among young people. For those under the age of 40, they can clearly see that the America that their parents have left to them is in worse shape than the America that their parents inherited.

Conservative or liberal, the old ways of thinking aren’t working:

  • healthcare
  • inequality
  • a compromised and unresonsive democratic process
  • massive student debt
  • low wages
  • a scarcity of meaningful/well-paying work, high cost of housing
  • systemic gender and racial discrimination
  • an enormous prison industrial complex designed to imprison non-whites
  • and a world that continues to barrell toward ecological disaster

The young will inherit the mess.

Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. Things are tenuous, of course, and the challenges that confront us are immense and largely unacknowledged by our elders and by those in positions of power; but there’s discontent among the masses. They kind of know that they aren’t going to find the key in those well-lit areas. The key is somewhere out there, in the dimly lit, unfamiliar areas.

This entry was posted in: Ideas & Short Essays

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Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy; I pass the winters in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. I'm working on a memoir-based nonfiction book on the American Dream. I blog, quite frequently, and I also have a novel in process, set in Alaska.

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