Know your Why

ONISM: The awareness of how little in the world you will experience

Have you ever wondered about how little you are, and how little in the world you will experience in your short lifespan? Especially with ones who love to travel, this pain may touch you not just once, that you have to decide between mountains and beaches, Europe and Asia, with an aching thought that even until you have to say your last goodbye, you still never really know your whole country, your whole world, your whole universe?

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows explains this very well using the word “Onism”.

onism – n. the frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time, which is like standing in front of the departures screen at an airport, flickering over with strange place names like other people’s passwords, each representing one more thing you’ll never get to see before you die-and all because, as the arrow on the map helpfully points out, you are here.

Video transcript:

“You are here. You were lost at first, but soon began sketching yourself a map of the world—plotting the contours of your life.

And like the first explorers, sooner or later you have to contend with the blank spaces on the map. All the experiences you’ve never had. The part of you still aching to know what’s out there. Eventually these questions take on a weight of their own, and begin looming over your everyday life.

All the billions of doors you had to close in order to take a single step forward. All the things you haven’t done and may never get around to doing; all the risks that may or may not have been real; all the destinations you didn’t buy a ticket to; all the lights you see in the distance that you can only wonder about; all the alternate histories you narrowly avoided; all the fantasies that stay dormant inside your head; everything you’re giving up, to be where you are right now; the questions that you wrongly assumed were unanswerable.

It’s strange how little of the universe we actually get to see. Strange how many assumptions we have to make just to get by, stuck in only one body, in only one place at a time. Strange how many excuses we’ve invented to explain why so much of life belongs in the background. Strange that any of us could ever feel at home on such an alien world.

We sketch monsters on the map because we find their presence comforting. They guard the edges of the abyss, and force us to look away; so we can live comfortably in the Known World, at least for a little while.

But if someone were to ask you on your deathbed what it was like to live here on Earth, perhaps the only honest answer would be, “I don’t know. I passed through it once, but I’ve never really been there.”



The Onism helps us in understanding ourselves as the limitation of living as a human being, not to spread out disappointment. We are small and weak creatures, but we have the ability to discover, and “Nothing is better than reading and gaining more and more knowledge.” quoted from Stephen Hawking. Sometimes I wonder if human beings haven’t created the writing systems, then how could we collect, share and build all these knowledge, decade by decade, so that this whole society can base on it and develop until it can reach out to space; how could Stephen Hawking can base on it to be able to make the statement “Philosophy is dead” to emphasize the importance of science over philosophy, just like Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “God is dead” to emphasize existentialism over religions. But both Hawking and Nietzsche, by their own way urging to grasp the core of existentialism, belittled the short lifespan of one human being, never stopped wonder and pursue the answers, so that we can understand the world around us, and then come back to understand ourselves.

It did surprise Hawking of how little and disinterested people today care about physics, space, the universe and philosophy. In his lucrative ages of living he so many times reminded us to be curious, to keep asking the “how” and “why” questions just like a child. It does not really mean we do it to combine and layer up all these knowledge for the sake of human beings, in the context of Onism that one can never reach the whole; one does it simply for the reason that he can go beyond himself, that he is the bridge and never be an end.

Check out my book of 100 new little things – A method for knowing your Why

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.