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March 23, 2005

The Meaning of Life

I ran across something the other day when I did a Google search on "the meaning of life." I think this spun off of a conversation that Roo and I were having about the whole situation with Terri Schiavo.

Somewhere in those search results I found these pages that purport to explain the meaning of life. I don't know who wrote the essays, but whomever it was is both intelligent and wickedly funny.

I wouldn't say that the concepts the person writes about are necessarily profound, although, in some ways they are. Overall I think the essays reveal a very good way of looking at the world, and our places in it. Because every one of us is just one random person floating in a sea of people, trying to stay afloat.

But there's good stuff on that site that I think would interest a lot of you. Here are some excerpts from various essays that I thought were especially resonant. Where there is italicized emphasis, it is mine.

From Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?:

There is no such thing as Justice

It is an illusion. A myth. A fairy tale. Life really isn't fair. The question is, why do you think it's supposed to be? Who started that idea? Job? The people who tried to put a good face on beating people up by inventing the Queensbury Rules? We don't know.

Justice sounds like a good idea because it sort of equalizes the pain. I get hurt, so you get hurt in return. Well there's more ocean than land, more roaches than roach motels, and more salesmen than prophets. Things just aren't meant to be equal. Suffering and happiness are not weights in some cosmic Martha Stewart food scale, their relative proportion is completely unpredictable, just get over it.

Here's the deal. Tragedy may be unequal, but it isn't random. Yes, there is a meaning, we're giving a bit away early here. Bad things usually happen to forcefully slap us out of whatever stupor we are in at the time. We are supposed to start questioning our beliefs. We are supposed to figure out what is and what is not important to us. People usually don't change unless they feel sufficient pain to overcome their natural resistance to change. Change takes energy. Nothing energizes like tragedy. What suffering is usually supposed to encourage us to do is figure out how to avoid suffering in the future. Find out what happy people do and imitate them. This is not rocket science.

If tragedy seems random and cruel now, it isn't. You're just not wanting to look at the facts.

Of course, if people don't get the hint and continue to imitate deer staring into the headlights of destiny, well, that's their lookout. Do not get mad at God/the universe/insert your cosmic principle here. Do what you're supposed to do, pick your ass up off the ground and try again. Nobody likes a crybaby.

You can't get out of it by going limp and giving up. That usually makes it worse. Athletes must tolerate a certain level of pain to reach their goals. You are no different.

As for the injustice of loved ones getting killed, etc., that has its own purpose. Don't ask unanswerable questions about other people; you've got enough to worry about with your own situation. If you get tragically killed, then you'll understand. Until then, forget it.

We have been criticized about the callous nature of this page. For people who have recently lost family members, etc., this little diatribe can sting. However, the message is still true even for them. Life is very unfair, but like chemotherapy, it does the job.

From Unhappy? Depressed?:

The answer to unhappiness is both liberating and infuriating, but here it is. Happiness doesn't depend on anything that has or has not happened in the past, nor does it depend on your future prospects (thank God, eh?). The simple fact is, in order to be happy:

You Must Decide to be Happy.

Yep. Isn't that aggravating? You can't blame it on anyone else, and no one else can do a thing for you. You've just got to decide to be happy, whether or not your logical mind thinks it is rational to be happy and whether or not your moral sense thinks you deserve to be happy. You absolutely will not be happy for any length of time until you decide to, and if you decide to, you can be happy in the face of the most miserable circumstances.

From Feel Useless and Worthless?:

Everyone on the planet is in exactly the same state of moral worth, because we are all doing the best we can with what we have. Poor upbringings cause many people to not have much to do their best with, but hey, that's life. ... So you see, people are basically good. They are all trying to do their best. They often just need some help overcoming inner demons and behavior patterns that aren't really working for them.

Obviously, you are in the same boat. You are doing the best you can with what you have. You are already living the most moral and correct life you know how to live. There is no more that you can do at this moment to be a better person. You are already a good person. You do not have to strive every moment to be better than it is possible for you to be. Smile at yourself. You're OK.

Now, it should be clear that you can improve. Not by beating yourself over the head for bad things you've done; those things couldn't be helped. You were just doing your best with what you had. What you can do is learn where your blind spots are. Watch others. People who at first glance are just plan old bad people are on further investigation suffering from horrendous misconceptions about how the world works. You also have misconceptions about the best way to get what you want. Find those misconceptions and wake up!

From So what?:

We have been given the freedom to create the reality we experience because we are supposed to learn from it.

Life is a school. We are in a protected environment. ... Just as school work requires serious effort but isn't supposed to be performed perfectly, we are expected to make mistakes as we try to create the world from the model that we see dimly in our minds. The mistakes we make in life, the cruel and thoughtless things we do, are really the foibles of children. Your errors do not weight eternally against your soul, and they are not put on your permanent record. Their only purpose is to teach you to improve.

Feeling guilty is worthless unless it compels you to correct the error that you have committed and reminds you to not make the same mistake again in the future. Those are the only purposes of guilt. Guilt is not to be used to berate yourself uselessly after you have done all you can do to compensate for your action. Remember, the people you hurt chose to experience that reality, although they are not usually aware of that fact.

And finally, I really like the description of an "open system" way of living that is described on the So what? page:

Open systems:

  • Base moral judgments on the actual helpfulness or harmfulness of someone’s behavior. Leave large areas of behavior morally neutral, so that you have room to find compromises with others who see things differently.

  • Encourage you to listen to and understand people who are different from you.

  • Define standards of moral behavior but allow that thoughts and feelings are not controllable and are exempt from “moral” judgments.

  • Expect your natural inclinations to lead you into creative endeavors that will help you to find your place in the world and meet your need to act effectively.

Posted by Highwaygirl on March 23, 2005 12:18 PM to the category Randomness
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