A is for Anxiety

| February 17, 2014

A is for Anxiety

Kierkegaard described anxiety as the dizziness of freedom, one that is overcome only through the leap between the moment of possibility and the action of our freedom. (Concept of Anxiety)

In Lines, Ingold contrasts the presence of a line drawn freehand versus one created with the assistance of a ruler; “a freehand line can convey something of this texture, whereas a ruled line cannot“ (179). The difference between drawing a line freehand versus using a ruler is comparable to the differences between wayfaring and being transported. To transport means getting from point a to point b, the route is set out beforehand, therefore to travel is to simply carry out the plan, just as in connecting two points with a ruled line. In wayfaring, a traveler has no clear destination and therefore the path is expectedly ridden with turns and curves. There is no ruling force on the wayfarer, except the wayfarer himself. The destination is reached only when the wayfarer is satisfied with his journey. We often treat education as a form of transportation. As educators, we get students from point a to point b in the most efficient way possible. Curriculum is created, it is presented, students are tested, the point of mastery is reached and they move onto to the next quest. Until they reach the age of 18, children are often assumed to be incapable of wayfaring.

But Wayfarers experience a freedom that transported travelers do not.  There is no stipulated timeframes for wayfarers. Their journey unfolds organically, moves forward as the wayfarer’s imagination becomes more curious. In education, wayfaring would look drastically different than what occurs in classrooms today. On the whole, living our lives as wayfarers seems like a pipe dream. Culturally, it appears as if the formula for a successful life is predetermined. A successful K-12 education is followed by higher education, which leads to a well-paying job, which is followed by marriage, children, and eventual retirement. America does not look charitably at wayfaring.

Wayfarers in our society may be labeled, ‘vagabonds’, ‘drifters’, ‘selfish’, ‘lost’ or be told that they are ‘wasting time’ (as if time is a commodity and somehow wayfaring is a misuse of it). Wayfarers do not subscribe to the prescription life that society has presented them and instead choose to pursue ventures that would not present themselves in the traditional route from point a to point b. Wayfaring could mean adventuring across the globe, working a string of dead-end jobs, growing all your own food or even something as trivial as memorizing the entire history of legal pads. I believe wayfaring means living a life without an overarching, definitive end or pursuit; therefore your focus becomes acting in the life you are entrenched in at any given moment. Embedded in a society obsessed with ‘five-year plans’ and ‘401ks’, it’s difficult to imagine a life such as this. However, my imagination easily becomes enamored with the freedom that wayfarers experience, and the possibilities they open themselves up to. The autonomy of a wayfarer cannot be matched by the traditional transported way of living.

However, with this freedom comes anxiety. For Kierkegaard, anxiety is unfocused fear. For every situation of freedom we are presented with multiple possibilities; he writes an example of a man standing on the edge of a cliff, caught between the fear of falling and his impulse to throw himself off the edge. “Anxiety is a two-sided emotion: on one side is the dread burden of choosing for eternity; on the other side is the exhilaration of freedom in choosing oneself” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Existential anxiety in the route of ‘transportation’ is much less likely to occur than in the path of a wayfarer. Hard decisions in a prescribed travel route occur much less frequently than in a route that unfolds itself. The wayfarer experiences the dizziness of his freedom often. However, with each experience of anxiety, the opportunity to reflect on our livelihood and our philosophy presents itself once again.


Kierkegaard’s “Concept of Anxiety”

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kierkegaard/