In Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth—a classic children’s story for all ages—the boy Milo unwittingly takes a journey into a world of fantasy, where he discovers that his own world is far from the boring place he considered it to be.
During one of several encounters with the creatures and people of this fantasy world, Milo learns about the tragedy of living an unexamined life:
“Many years ago, on this very spot, there was a beautiful city of fine houses and inviting spaces, and no one who lived here was ever in a hurry. The streets were full of wonderful things to see and the people would often stop to look at them.”
“Didn’t they have any place to go?” asked Milo.
“To be sure,” continued Alec; “but, as you know, the most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that. Then one day someone discovered that if you walked as fast as possible and looked at nothing but your shoes you would arrive at your destination much more quickly. Soon everyone was doing it. They all rushed down the avenues and hurried along the boulevards seeing nothing of the wonders and beauties of their city as they went.”
Milo remembered the many times he’d done the very same thing; and, as hard as he tried, there were even things on his own street that he couldn’t remember.
“No one paid any attention to how things looked, and as they moved faster and faster everything grew uglier and dirtier, and as everything grew uglier and dirtier they moved faster and faster; and at last a very strange thing began to happen. Because nobody cared, the city slowly began to disappear. Day by day the buildings grew fainter and fainter, and the streets faded away, until at last it was entirely invisible. There was nothing to see at all.”
“What did they do?” the Humbug inquired, suddenly taking an interest in things.
“Nothing at all,” continued Alec. “They went right on living here just as they’d always done, in the houses they could no longer see and on the streets which had vanished, because nobody had noticed a thing. And that’s the way they have lived to this very day.”
“Hasn’t anyone told them?” asked Milo.
“It doesn’t do any good,” Alec replied, “for they can never see what they’re in too much of a hurry to look for.” (pp. 117-18)
Look up. Look around. Seek wisdom. See beauty.
My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.—Proverbs 2:1-6