A Task Large Enough For The Longest Life

Just saw Dave Winer tweet out this….

Which instantly made me recall this oft quoted passage from my teacher & mentor Harvey Sarles…

“Why is it, I have wondered, that whereas authors, poets, et al in earlier eras produced their most important works in their later years, it is characteristic of our age to begin with the climax, also a distrust of life; thus almost everyone considers quitting early, a professor for a few years, a poet for a few years, an actor a few years, etc— in short, as if the tasks were not enough for a whole life.

I think it can be explained this way, that instead of being character tasks, all tasks have become virtuosity tasks. This is why they are not enough. The ability to express the highest, to understand the highest, to present it, etc., can be achieved before thirty. But to do it— that changes everything and gives one a task large enough for the longest life.

But this is not what they want. They want to scintillate with virtuosity— and sneak away from character. This is why they turn aside…”

– from Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, 1833-1855, journal entry #4475, as quoted in Harvey Sarles’ book Teaching as Dialogue, Chapter 8, “Toward Becoming An Auto-Didact (Where Pedagogy Directs Itself)”


Our current era’s fascination with the cult of the new begs for shallow virtuosity but what our planet needs is depth, building better roots and rerouting branches. No small task. For me the question here is how to iteratively think and do civic practices to emerge more sustainable and equitable ways of living together. Part of a life long task.