When you search online for the greatest achievements in human history, you find under the category of greatest explorations, the following:
• Columbus’s discovery of the New World (America)
• Lewis and Clark Expedition (They traversed the uninhabited territories of the USA from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast in the early 1800s)
• Marco Polo’s journey to China
• Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe
• Amundsen’s journey to the South Pole
Before these pioneers explored beyond the boundaries of conventional thought there were vast parts of the earth that was absolutely unknown to man. Seems inconceivable today doesn’t it? The Atlas as we know it today has been there forever or so it would seem. Every child in school has been made to learn the names of countries, their capital cities, the principal mountains, the chief rivers and lakes, the distribution of forests and deserts and even the crops that grow in the different parts of the country depending on the climate! As children, we have all cursed the very existence of the book of maps and on more than one occasion even changed the face of maps when memory evaded us, but if we could travel back to a time when the maps were being created, we might see the beauty in it, the sheer joy of watching the shapes come alive for the first time. Of course it was not without its own problems with society being so firmly entrenched in their own notions about the world and further back in history, in the age of kingdoms when maps were regularly redrawn to reflect the might and power of the kings in question. These explorers in fact had their work cut out to convince the people in power that their journeys would reveal anything at all! So now when we may even a casual glance at the map of the world, it is with the secure knowledge that there is little else to discover. Every piece of land and water body is neatly demarcated by multicoloured lines; which goes to show just how far we’ve come. Of course we’re far from being sure of what all goes on beneath the surface but even that, with today’s technology is not that hard to project. What we’re forgetting however is that no matter how advanced things are now and how easily and carelessly we can access information, we are still poorer than our ancestors in knowledge. This day and age is wasted on us. Once upon a time, people with much less information on their hands, were more hungry for more knowledge and they made sure they got it, the scarcity of it making it all the more precious so that every last drop had to squeezed out of it. People ‘read’ languages different from their own instead of merely learning and forgetting them; people read books to know about places, things, people and cultures that they had never seen; society was a closely knit community where people looked to each other in times of joy and in times of need; there was time for work and there was time for play and last but not the least, there was an appreciation for all of these things that is missing in today’s life. The word culture was originally coined to mean the cultivation of the soul and mind. How many of us can honestly claim to doing that? Or even attempting to? It isn’t easy mind you, even if you did decide to wake up one morning and start enriching yourself. We are limited by our own passion for speed and anything that doesn’t quite match our pace gets left behind. The internet, that wonderful platform that literally brings the world at our fingertips is rarely used to discover something new unless circumstances demand it. We have become a servant to the technology, blindly following glitter instead of gold, instead of technology serving us. We have the means to read about anything we wish to; visit almost any places that we may wish to and find entertainment in any number of ways but how often do we actually do take that crucial step towards the unknown. It gets easier every day to arrange for anything to be delivered straight to your doorstep but it gets harder and harder to break out of the comfort zone. Its like having an entire ocean at your disposal and being content to live in the bottom of a pond of stagnant water. For that is exactly what our lives have become: stagnant. Of course one may argue that we after all are not completely at liberty to always do as we please and that we have responsibilities to fulfill but unless you put some passion into it, nothing you ever do will feel like worth it. It is heartening to hear about people who have broken the mould of ordinary and ventured into the unknown; we follow their lives with breathlessness and wish we could be the same and yet at the end of the day, we scoff at their foolishness and lack of wisdom. I’d say that people had it much better when they knew little and thus wanted to know more. They would journey across the world by the only means available to them which took them months to reach their destination (such cruel waste of time I hear you say!) but they used their time to enrich themselves like we never have. Think back to the years spent in school, how often have you sat in class and strained to hear the bell ring that would signal the end of the lesson? Did we ever even then think about learning something new, get excited about knowing something more than you did yesterday? We didn’t and reason for that is just that the world and our society has made us that way, looking out into the world and seeing only the present (and an exaggerated version of the future!) and nothing else. So, sometimes, we should take the time to cast our eyes back to the time when explorers set out to discover the world (in every sense of the word) and then drew the maps which in a sense was almost like creating the world all over again; and then when we come back to the present, find some way to bring into our own lives, a passion for discovering something new and extraordinary.
PS # I am going to be practicing what I preach. When caught in the middle of a conversation about the Philippines and having only a very vague idea of where it was, I actually used the erstwhile internet to pinpoint the exact location and a very helpful website also enlightened me about the capital city, the principal mountains, the chief rivers and lakes, the distribution of forests and deserts and even the crops that grow in the different parts of the country depending on the climate (Not that I remember even one tenth of this, but it was good to know that I could know anytime I want). Cheers!