“To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation.” Paulo Coehlo’s bold words could likely be deconstructed in any number of ways in an intellectual environment such as ours. In the process, though, great wisdom would be reduced to just another opinion. George Saad’s piece on relativism (“It’s All Relative,” 11/17/09) cut to the heart of this issue. I agree with his assessment that treating all matters of importance as mere matters of opinion leads to isolation and, I would argue, meaninglessness. However, I would also challenge some of his points. First, the way he describes objective truth makes it sound concrete and immutable, a stone tablet on which are engraved clear commandments to live by. Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately) the universe is rarely so static.
My other quarrel is with Saad’s portrayal of the purpose of education: to help one “mature into a career buttressed by the understanding [one has] gained.” Unfortunately, he treats a career as the main course, garnished only by a deeper understanding of great truths. In truth, the purpose of education should be to explore great wisdom and to understand its meaning for one’s own life—to discover, in Coehlo’s words, one’s Personal Legend. These truths are not a buttress, but the foundation for one’s life. Further (and this is the part that makes some scholars uneasy), while intellect and reason are often helpful in this pursuit, they are not always the only, or even the best, tools.
Daryl Mortensen Dugas
Comparative Human Development