Raison D’être

rai·son d’ê·treˌ rāzôn ˈdetrə/ (n.): the most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence

This is going to be a mostly pointless, thinking-as-I-type kind of post, but I’m doing it anyway. My next one will be about a book I hope, I’m in the middle of Fall of Giants right now. It is very good but also very involved. I feel like I can’t read it unless I have at least five free consecutive hours, which is rare.

Do you ever have those weird instances when you stumble upon a word that you’ve never heard before, so you look up what it means and then you end up seeing that same word or phrase like seventeen more times right after you find out the definition? Or I guess it could happen with anything, like you hear about some obscure movie, find out what it is, then a bunch of people randomly bring that movie up. And suddenly you feel like you’re in on this secret joke, and like you can now relate and connect to a whole new group of people unrealized to you before you found out what this word or movie was.

So that happened with “raison d’être,” a french phrase with the definition included above. Examples of this phrase in a sentence tend to relate the word to various business or industry definitions, like “music is that company’s raison d’être.”

I think it’s interesting to think about the possibility that one singular thing or person could be someone’s raison d’être. It’s also interesting to consider whether that would even be entirely healthy. I feel like balance is a very important element in all aspects of anything – in my opinion, you need both good and bad for a lot of reasons.

And of course, no one can really answer the question of why any one of us exists, so the phrase is moot if you think about it philosophically. You could consider it in terms of passion… I love my family, friends, and reading more than anything else in the world. I’d be hesitant to say that any of those people or activity is the reason I am here, though. And I wouldn’t want it to be. Donning someone or something your raison d’être is limiting.

Maybe someone has a child, and they feel the life they created is now their raison d’être. But can that really be all that person considers they are? And what was their raison d’être before they had this child?

This is going nowhere, and getting weird and existential. I just read this phrase one morning, found out what it meant and thought the definition was awesome. Then I heard it on a podcast, read it again in a random collection of Rolling Stone articles published in their 20-year anniversary coffee table book, and then read it for the third time on a blog. It was weird, and each time I read it in a new context, I thought more and more about what it meant, and more and more about how sad it becomes when it’s applied to a person.

I hope we’re all made of thousands of different raison d’être’s, and we’re always open to the possibility of more. ◊


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