One of my favorite classical books has always been Alice in Wonderland – a story with enough allusions and alogeries to keep you thinking for years. Today, I am reminded of an interesting quote from the tale where Alice meets Cheshire.
`Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. `Come, it’s pleased so far,’ thought Alice, and she went on. `Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
`I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.
`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
`–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.
`Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.’
Perhaps on some existential level, we might determine that Cheshire is pointing out the fact that people need destinations before directions, and often times, we confuse them with one another. We believe that having direction means having a destination. Often times, in our pursuit for directions and guidance, we forget that we require a destination – or at the very least, have our minds dead set on one. Instead, what we get, are pursuits to get “somewhere” positive and we feel that this in itself is a good enough desire or ambition.
The reason I mention this is because it’s a problem I see having adverse affects on a country like Jordan.
From people to institutions to businesses, I see a lot of ambition and a lot of desire to head in a positive direction, but the destination is unknown. We are constantly on the move and constantly wanting to get “somewhere” but we have no idea where it is specifically that we want to go and thus, how to get there. Our concern becomes so much entangled with the latter – the need to have directions and to be led or guided by others – when in reality, such guidance is lost if the destination is unknown.
And so, every time I’ve read a mission or vision statement written by a company in Jordan, I sigh. It usually tells me absolutely nothing about who they are, and more importantly, where they want to go; their destination. They usually want to be the best and the greatest, but that’s not really a destination; it’s an aspiration. Every time I speak to people, especially if they’re young and ambitious, I end up getting the sense that they don’t know what their exact destination is, they simply want to be on that train going to successville, wherever that may be.
In truth, Jordanian youth are not taught to have visions or even a great sense of direction. They are taught to see life as a preset to-do list they simply need to accomplish in order to achieve fulfillment. Tawjihi, university, work, marriage, children, restart. That’s the path. While these are all activities, and certainly life pillars to most, they are not part of a vision. In fact, it seems any young Jordanian who dares to pursue anything outside this to-do list – to have a different vision than the one set before them by their parents and community – is deemed a heretic or a fool. We are taught that visions are for Kings, which is often why when I speak to a politician in this country, they’ll constantly say phrases like “in line with His Majesty’s vision” – as if to have an alternative is a sin. As if visions are an unaffordable luxury.
All in all, you can’t have a destination without an underlying vision – a pursuit that your mind is set on fulfilling and thus has a clear and required path to follow. But more importantly, to have a vision, you have to ask the right questions, and that’s often where I see most people struggling, and that includes myself. The difference may be that most people don’t recognize they’re asking the wrong questions.
If you’ve ever had a problem or a question you needed an answer to, and resorted to using Google, then you’ve probably experienced the following. You put in your search term, sometimes even in the form of a question, and then you spend about an hour clicking away on the search results, not finding what you specifically need, then rephrasing your question, then clicking away again at the new results. You end up repeating this process for quite a bit sometimes until suddenly you pick up a new keyword. You may have caught a glimpse of it, bolded some where in the search results, but suddenly, that keyword restructures your question completely and when you run a new search with a new question, you end up with the results you needed.
You begin to realize that the answers were there all along, you just weren’t asking the right question. And asking the right question is often times more important than the answer itself.
The beginning of every single thing we do in life, begins with a question. Questions lead to pursuits, and pursuits lead to destinations. We exist on a never-ending timeline of pursuits whether we acknowledge it or not, and every single one of them starts with a question and the need for an answer. If the question is wrong, what becomes of the answer?
I see so many young Jordanians of my own generation wanting to desperately be entrepreneurs in order to become wealthy. I often wonder how many of them ask themselves whether they truly want or need wealth, and more importantly if they feel entering the entrepreneurial ring is the right way to go about it. How do they even define wealth?
Perhaps many of you reading this might think that visions are indeed the stuff of kings, and most Jordanians are just trying to survive. This is because we’ve convinced ourselves that visions are by definition grandiose in nature, when in reality, I’ve met the simplest people in this country who have the simplest of visions. It’s a testament to the fact that visions do not necessarily need to be world-changing, just as long as they’re life-altering visions. But irrespective, who says that only kings can afford to have grandiose visions? A quick look at some of the stories that have emerged from India in the past few decades sees people much worse off than the average Jordanian pursuing visions that we would ordinarily deem to be sheer lunacy.
What saddens me about all of this is that probably few will see any of this as a problem to begin with. Few will recognize that without personal visions we are destined to remain stuck, recycled in the same compost of what we’ve been producing for the past half century. Where the input equals the output. Few will realize that visions and pursuits are what allow the next generation to aspire to something greater than what was afforded to those that preceded them. It is these visions, clearly defined and articulated, that are the very gears of innovation. After all, an ideas economy usually requires an idea, and that is something that can only thrive within the confines of a vision.
And while I’m sure someone will be along shortly to blame the government, the education system, Zionism or the US – the truth of the matter is, the elements which have the biggest impact on whether or not a person has a vision are the elements that surround him. Parents, siblings, relatives, friends, peers, colleagues, and yes – teachers. Our pursuits are greatly dependent on whether or not these elements “allow” us to have a vision to begin with.
Without the proper support mechanisms, visions will find difficulty in surviving the pressures of external forces. When we look at historic renaissances, we tend to romanticize them as if they emerged out of no where – as if the people were just suddenly enlightened by the power of a lightening bolt. In reality, renaissances took years and years to create, and at the heart of them are individuals with grand visions that had the support of others. A man with a vision was an apprentice to another man with a vision who played his mentor. The mentor-apprentice relationship is what fuels a vision. It is what allows it to survive in a world bent on destroying it – a world that promotes conformity above all else.
So to anyone reading this who has a desire to get somewhere but doesn’t know exactly how to get there, start with asking the right question – form