One is taking you somewhere, while the other is the destination.
Certainly, there is a certain amount of truth to the idea that “the journey is the destination” – but that is because the end of the journey was something bigger than just arrival at a particular location.
I was challenged to think about this first in the context of my own personal religious context. There are certain “spiritual disciplines” that often believers will engage in. These are – often times – things such as scripture reading, prayer, fellowship with other believers.
The question was raised, are these things means or ends? Not just in theory – in actuality, do you approach them as means of achieving something bigger – namely, in this instance a deeper understanding and relationship with God, a more tangible knowledge of His revealed word – or are they ends in themselves?
This line of introspection has application that goes much farther than just a personal spiritual level.
Take the field of education. For teachers are lectures ends or means? Assignments,t he essays, homework, exams, all of these, are they ends in themselves? Is the successful completion of an assignment accomplishing the end for which it was created? Perhaps, but not necessarily.
The goal of education is not just the accumulation of facts but the ability to reason and make that acquired knowledge useful in real life. There is a transformative aspect of education, not merely a process of addition. An education system that confuses means and ends is going to ultimately struggle to really see the kinds of results it would profess to be seeking.
There could be a thousand other scenarios raised where there is the potential for the confusion of means and ends. In my own life I can think of a few where I am afraid I have substituted the means for the end.
What is the result of that? Usually, I think, it is a feeling of emptiness or worthless. We are not getting the return we thought we would on our investment. The reality though is we lost sight of what it was we were pursuing in the first place.
The thing we have pursued was never big enough to produce the results we wanted.
This is why the student may ace the test – but not really have learned anything. This is why you may have read the pages – but never really been changed.
Don’t lose sight of the ends which really matter. Make sure the means are aimed at (and never substitutes for) ends which are worthy of pursuit.
If the two are confused the result is chasing after the wind. It is grasping after shadows.