What motivates us to do incredible things?

“[…]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road.


The above passage is from one of my favourite books of all time. The book itself deals with a lot of complex stuff: youth (especially when it’s fleeting), human relationships, self-discovery, morality. But this passage really gets to me, and it always has.

There isn’t really a context for it. He’s talking about how he got into the whole mess of travelling America with Dean Moriarty, and while it’s from the point of view of the fictional Sal Paradise, it really is based on Kerouac’s own experiences with Neal Cassady, so it’s a valid hypothesis that these are his real sentiments. He writes about how he’s attracted to those wild people nearly everyone knows, the ones that are adventurous and always have a story to tell. He’s attracted to people that are interesting, yet he acknowledges that they aren’t always the most stable, likening them to exploding roman candles. In the book, Sal Paradise talks about how complexly flawed and wonderful Dean Moriarty is, and he wishes he could be part of that special brand of madness. And I think that’s what a lot of people crave.

We read books and watch movies and create fiction because it depicts people who are fascinating enough to have other people care about what they have to say. And deep down, I think we all sometimes want to be that sort of person. When we’re in the presence of such remarkable stories, such adventurous souls, we may begin to wish for that uniqueness, and that’s OK. It’s normal to want to settle down and live comfortably, but all too often, the greatest experiences in life aren’t ones that make us money – they’re the ones we sought out with madness and liveliness in our hearts. Humans want to be remembered, in a way that is so crippling because our fear of oblivion is so strong. We know we will die, and maybe it drives us to do incredible things and along the way, we become incredible people.