Kierkegaard: The Road Is How

Matthew Gindin
3 min readMay 1

How do we make decisions?

Photo by James Wheeler:

“There is a generally accepted metaphor that compares life to a road. To compare life to a road can indeed be fruitful in many ways, but we must consider how life is unlike a road. In a physical sense a road is an external actuality, no matter whether anyone is walking on it or not, no matter how the individual travels on it – the road is the road. But in the spiritual sense, the road comes into existence only when we walk on it. That is, the road is how it is walked.”

I added the italics in the above quote. I feel Kierkegaard says something incredibly profound here about how to live. When I was much younger- around 23 years ago, my girlfriend became accidentally pregnant. She didn’t want to be a Mom, and after consideration she decided to carry the baby to term and put it up for adoption rather than abort. At the time she said that the decision to abort was fear-based, and the decision to give the child to folks wanting to parent was generosity-based, and she thought generosity would lead to better results.

To all appearences she was right. We gave the child away in an open adoption (the open-ness also a decision based on principle rather than strategy) and to this day we are close to our birthdaughter, Dev, who grew up with wonderful parents.

The reason I tell this story about how Dev’s birthmother made that decision is that she made her choice based on the how, not the what. Was it objectively better to abort or to carry the baby to term? She didn’t try to decide that. She noted what her motivations were, and she chose the nobler one, the one that better expressed how she wanted to live.

Kierkegaard goes on to say, “Worldly sagacity teaches that the road goes over Gerizim, or over Moriah, or that it goes through some science or other, or that the road is certain doctrines, or certain behaviors. But all this is a deception, because the road is how it is walked. It is indeed as Scripture says — two people can be sleeping in the same bed — the one is saved, the other is lost. Two people can go up to the same house of worship — the one goes home saved, the other is lost. Two people can recite the same creed — the one can be saved, the other is lost. How does this happen except for the fact that, spiritually speaking, it is a deception to know where the road is, because the road is: how it is walked?”

I love Kierkegaard’s use of Christian imagery here: two people can be doing the exact same thing, and one be saved and the other lost. Two people can believe the same thing, or say the same “right words” and likewise one person is found, and the other lost. Because the road is made of the heart, built out of the quality of intention.

I can hear some counter-arguments to this assertion, and if you have them, drop them in the comments below, let’s discuss.

Matthew Gindin

Editor, freelance writer, journalist, ghostwriter.

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