Risky Living

Learning implies change. Intellectual growth exchanges what is already known for new knowledge. Even when understanding builds on the familiar, advanced thinking replaces simplified generalization with complex specificity. To learn, by definition, is to transgress. Transgression implies violation, but its generic sense is simply to “pass beyond.” One passes a limit to a place, notion, or practice that is unfamiliar. Crossing into the unknown is risky. Boundaries (seem to) exist for a reason. The reason may not be known, but it is common to assume that the reason has a legitimate cause. Strategically, taboos and rules of politeness often combine to prevent questioning, thereby leaving reasons, causes, and assumptions of legitimacy free from scrutiny.
The sources of human social behavior can only be molded through open conversation about passions and ideals. Struggling to explain reasons gives visibility to causes, creating the possibility for thoughtful consideration of present and future effects. Queries about the relationship between cause and reason play on the boundary of etiquette. Asking “Why?” flirts with individual rationality and personal justification. To question the relationship between intention and outcome is to dance with the significance of existence. I believe it is only when we inquire into everyday choices and decisions that we approach the potentials of social justice.
I believe we believe too much, and question too little. Asking questions is difficult; casting doubt challenges the security of predictable social order. Belief is comfortable, a strategy for securing identity. Contrarily, I believe that when I am afraid, I am on the boundary that matters. When I consciously act into fear with an attitude of exploration, I am as alive as I will ever be. What I have noticed is that my own fears are most prominent when I question myself, the friends and family members I love, and those with some semblance of power over me.
When I am the person with authority, asking questions is not frightening. I may feel anxious, but I am not afraid. When I – as an “at will” worker – ask questions of colleagues and supervisors, I experience a range of visceral symptoms: sweaty palms, increased heart rate, butterflies in my stomach, wobbly legs. I know I am on the verge of learning. Something will be different as a result of my question; asking is an act of transgression. The response &emdash; in words and action &emdash; will inform and influence my relationships: at best by inspiring a reciprocal curiosity, at worst by invoking an oppositional foe. Most intimately, close attention to the responsiveness or reactivity of others teaches me. I transgress myself.
This essay was written according to the assignment for students in “Freshmen Writing” to write a statement of belief, following guidelines outlined by National Public Radio. Thanks to all the members of Section 68 for feedback and suggestions which improved my writing.

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