Copyright 2002-2003 and on, Newsfinder.org

Just as we cannot find happiness by looking for it, so we cannot discover truth by a direct search. We can only approach it in a negative way.

When we are young and eager, we seek for The Truth. We look for answers. But as we get older, if we learn anything, we learn to collect "non-answers."

Truth, as I conceive it, is a tiny dot on a large map. We keep taking wrong roads, and crossing them off the map when we find they are not going where we want them to go.

Education is a process of learning what is wrong. Nobody, for instance, can give a satisfactory definition of “happiness.” But, by experience, we can learn the things that do not bring happiness.

Much of the impatience and rebellion and cynicism of youth spring from a failure to understand that such concepts as Truth and Happiness cannot be grasped by the intellect. They can only be reached (if ever) by trial and error, by blocking out more and more areas of the map until only a small portion is left unshaded.

This is a laborious and painful process. It is much easier to seize a partial truth and take it for the whole truth. But there can be no short cut to personal exploration; even the truths of religious belief must come from deep emotional experience, not merely from a blind clinging to custom.

This wisdom of elderly people is infuriating to the young, because it is almost always negative - as it has to be. They know that money leads neither to truth nor to happiness; they know that sensual pleasures, as a goal, are vain and empty; they know that fame and honor and all the food of the ego provide no lasting nourishment for the spirit.

They have taken wrong roads and blind alleys; and while they cannot tell you where to go, they can tell you where not to go. But, of course, we will not listen; for each person not his own private map which he must block out for himself, at whatever cost.

The most we can do is continue to collect non-answers, as the scientist keeps making experiment after experiment to rule out the wrong combinations. And we must persist, for, contrary to that diabolical proverb, it is the road to Heaven that is paved with good intentions.

Sydney J. Harris (1917 - 1986)