Zweckmäßigkeit (#519)

Yes, that is a German word in my title and I did actually use this word in the course of a conversation today. “Die Zweckmäßigkeit” is variously translated as “purpose, purposiveness, usefulness, fitness for purpose”; it is a term used in the German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Aesthetic Judgment. A bowl, for instance, is created by an artisan with a view to this object being used for holding something, such as food; the artisan creates the bowl with certain properties in order that the bowl has the potential to be used for those certain tasks, and this concept of what purpose the bowl could be used for is its Zweckmäßigkeit.
(And if that is not the correct definition, may any philosophers reading this please correct me!)

(And if you were reading this post to find out what happened today with Charlie and his lunchbox, don’t worry, no more Kant.)

Anyways. The word Zweckmäßigkeit entered my mind and so this post today because of a discussion about……… a window shade.

My father-in-law is having an addition to the back of the house, with the result that, our room being on the lower below-ground level of the house, our windows open right out onto the contractor and his crew working. We had left one window uncovered to let in some more light but the time has come for a “window treatment,” and Jim got to work with the hammer and nails, and called to tell me about it as I was driving to work and after Charlie, happy as yesterday, had boarded the bus.

Jim reported that, while our privacy was now assured, Martha Stewart would not have been pleased at the manner (basically straight but…..) in which said shade was hung.

“But it covers the window, right?” I said, to which Jim concurred, to which I said, stream of consciousness (I was on the highway in full morning commute traffic), “And it achieves its Zweckmäßigkeit.”

“What?” said Jim. Whereupon I explained that, the purpose of the shade being to cover the window, that was all the shade need do, and whether or not the nails holding it in were perfectly aligned was an extraneous matter.

Purpose, goal, end, the point. I kept uttering these words a few hours later while talking to a student who is a senior at the college where I teach. Bright, articulate, good-natured, this student had said he wanted to talk to me about graduate school. After the first minute, it became apparent that he was only considering graduate school because of family pressure; that he had chosen his major for no particular reason; that he could get decent grades without too much effort; that he had absolutely no idea what to do with himself after college, and he kept asking me what I thought. In other words, this student was completely goal-less, one might say.

As I kept asking him questions to find out his interests, the thought kept coming into my head, how purpose-full my life, our life, is. Because of Charlie, with his numerous challenges and needs. Because of autism. Decisions—about jobs, where to live, what kind of car to buy, how to compose our will, how our paychecks get divided—are rendered not only obvious but easy because we know that the one goal in life is to do our best by Charlie.

Thanks to Charlie, our lives are steeped in Zweckmäßigkeit.

It was beyond obvious why I had to leave work early (to drop off a prescription for Charlie’s meds at the pharmacy); why I simply walked out of a conversation between the neighbor who runs errands for my in-laws and their nurse (Charlie needed me); why I had bought too much fish to cook for dinner (Charlie loves salmon and, as predicted, ate more than what seemed his share); why I did three loads of laundry today (don’t ask); why I was soaking Vietnamese summer roll wrappers and cooking shrimp at 11pm (for Charlie’s lunch tomorrow—-the choice program worked well today, with Charlie saying “no thank you” to more rice when he had had enough). (!!!!).

Being the parent to a child like Charlie fills every day—every moment, even the ones where you are scrubbing out the sink and turning the house upside down to find a green squishy ball—with more Zweckmäßigkeit, more meaning, more of a sense of “this is why I was put on this planet,” than can be said in any language.

3 Responses to “Zweckmäßigkeit (#519)”
  1. Lisa/Jedi says:

    I really resonated to the bits about having a purposeful life (& feel really sorry for the student who has none). I have been reflecting a lot lately about how wonderful it is to have purpose, how much I’ve grown by having B in my life, how even the challenges are better than being lost without a purpose or completely wrapped up in my own stuff. A lot to give thanks for 🙂

  2. MommyGuilt says:

    Yes, it does seem like the “Z” word is first and foremost in our lives. Our purpose, our point, our goal is to do what helps our children – and the same can be said of parents who have NT kids, too. WE, though have those adorable little ones who need US to have a purpose for THEM, and FOR them.

    Like the new pic, btw

  3. mothersvox says:

    That’s a beautiful post. I wish I had that feeling more of the time. Not that I don’t feel a sense of purpose about Sweet M, but I also, in often greater measure, have a whole array of other feelings that are not so satisfying and assured.

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