Philosophical Foundations of Peace Education: Making Meaning and Discovering
Purpose
Jean-Paul Sartre, the French philosopher of existentialism, famously noted that
“man is condemned to meaning.” Very succinctly this statement alerts us to the fact that
human beings are impelled by needs that go beyond simply material desires. the
struggle over purpose and meaning in our lives looms large in the quest for a worthwhile
and satisfying existence (Shapiro, 2010, p. 129).
As a particular person as well as an existential scholar, I feel a profound
resonance with Sartre’s contention that the human individual cannot escape the practice
of meaning making as it correlates, not only to life purpose, but to the fundamental ways
in which human beings are compelled by the very nature of their existence to
understand, consider, choose, and act. Unlike animals, human beings do not operate by
instinct alone, and it is this meaning-making dimension of being human that makes
existence compelling, complicated, and potentially rewarding.
Purposefulness and the search for meaning continue to dominate my sensibilities
in the consideration of my existence and what I am to do with my life. Since childhood, I
have always been aware of a gnawing preoccupation with making deep meanings of any
and all events and relationships as I have experienced them. Labeled as both independent
and overly analytical from my earliest memories, I have “thought” my way through life.
While I recognize that my tendency toward intellectualizing has also served as a coping
mechanism relative to my own childhood wounding, I yet believe that I have benefited by
being a deep thinker in a variety of ways (not to be described here). Nonetheless, I
include this anecdotal note because I believe that our present educational system overtly
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