Given the option, most people would take the easier path. It requires less effort, less work, and will probably prevent you from suffering. But, it will also prevent you from growing. Buddhists see suffering as an undeniable facet of life. Therefore, without suffering, one lives a limited and meaningless existence. Taking the difficult path is what defines people as individuals. One grows through times of hardship and suffering, and as ee cummings phrased it, ‘it takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are’. Without placing yourself in uncomfortable situations, how will you ever realise your true potential? It does take courage to tackle the uncommon road with determination, yet it is the only way to establish one’s roots amongst the millions of weeds that are poisoning the world.
It takes immense valour to do what others refuse due to cowardice. It takes a certain power to not let oneself be sucked into the machine of tedium and uniformity that controls our world. Although it is a lonely path that requires great strength of conviction and stamina, it is also the most rewarding journey. Whenever I have taken the untraveled road, I have been rewarded with a feeling of freedom. Once you have conquered the road that many are too intimidated to attempt, you feel invincible. As soon as I step out of my comfort zone, out of the monotonous familiarity of everyday life, I feel a sense of lightness, as if I have successfully removed the pressures to conform, which are placed on people everyday. It is an incredibly lonely and isolating path initially, but as Emerson, an American poet said, ‘To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment’.
Conformity exists as a result of the easier path being an available option. When people encounter a crossroads, they are far more likely to choose the easier path, the path of the majority. This path is a monotonous journey of colourless scenery, dotted with the panorama of suppressed opinions. Although there is great diversity in this world, there is a sort of conformity that is present in every society, whether it is drugs, sex or overachieving. It is so much easier to take the smooth, well-lit path, which has been flattened due to millions of hikers who have volunteered the easy way out, instead of conquering the Mount Everest of one’s soul. ‘The glittering prizes in life come more to those who persevere despite setback and disappointment than they do to the exceptionally gifted who…pursue the tasks leading to success with less determination’. Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One is all about success despite hardships. It is about being one with yourself, after testing one’s will power and limits. Peekay, the protagonist of the novel, is a slight-built young boy, with a shy and timid character. His dream and aim in life is to be the welterweight boxing champion of the world. Declared by the majority as an impossible and impractical goal, Peekay throws himself into his dream, sprinting up the long, winding, rocky road until he reaches the top. By the end of the novel, Peekay is the number one welterweight boxing champion of South Africa and continues climbing until he is number one in the world. Despite the majority’s discouragements, Peekay chooses the road not taken, trusting his instincts, revealing his hidden potential. Atticus Finch, Harper Lee’s wise hero of To Kill A Mocking Bird, proves this point by saying ‘the one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience’. Despite people’s discouragements or apparent obstacles that seem to be roadblocks, you will always know if you took the easier road. It will always be in your conscience, a constant reminder that you rejected the opportunity to grow and develop.
In reality, what is the road not taken? Statistics show that the least visited place on earth is Tristan de Cunha, an island 2 800 km West from South Africa and 3 200 km East of South America. It is home to 271 people, who earn their living by farming. Its rocky terrain makes it impossible for an airstrip to be built, making it accessible only by boat. The only visitors it receives are the occasional deep-sea fishermen. This place has been listed as the most isolated place on earth. Yet, unknown to most, it is one of the most spectacular sites in the world. The remote island is bathed in sunlight on most days, but has the odd day of a halo-like silhouette of white cloud encircling the peak of the island. It is home to almost 400 different species of bird, despite its small area of 98 square kilometres. With its small population, the beaches are left pristine and deserted, nothing but waves touching the endless stretches of sand. Although this destination would most definitely be categorised as ‘a road not taken’, it holds the greatest reward of unimaginable scenery at the finish line.
‘Though you open a window in the chambers of your heart, though you strive to say what you feel, and in striving reach a state of understanding, there is still one part, one small part, that remains your own. One part that neither I, nor anyone else will ever penetrate. Forever strangers.’ Amin Kassam’s poem, Forever Strangers, claims that no one ever really knows one another. Furthermore, he maintains that we never actually know ourselves, that despite our biggest efforts, there always remains ‘one small part’ of us that is untouched and untouchable. I strongly disagree with this view. I feel that one always has the option to discover oneself. The road of self-discovery is a treacherous path of challenges and tests. But through these challenges, you push yourself, and thereby learn your limits, your potential, and your true self. Very few people take this path, and maybe that was what Kassam was trying to highlight, but I certainly believe that we all have the potential to determine who we really are, it just takes courage to want to do it. To choose the road not taken is to choose the opportunity hidden in the intimidating overgrowth. ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference’.