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Turning Over New Leaf

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Is Life Meaningless?

ant
Aesop's ants: picture by Milo Winter, 1888-1956  
 
Lately, I have heard many people say that nothing really matters, because after all, in a few hundred years we will all be gone anyway. As a student and teacher of philosophy, I have written on this subject before, so I thought I would contemplate it once again.

People struggle, they stress, and they attempt to accomplish goals as though whatever they achieve will be permanent. Why? Once the Earth disappears, which is the eventual fate of all planets, even Shakespeare's works will be gone forever, so what's the point of writing them in the first place? We know things don't last forever, but we attempt to achieve them anyway. We make excuses for the things we do. We help friends. We care for our loved ones. We even do some things for ourselves so we will be better prepared to help others in their meaningless journeys through life. Why?

In the large scheme of things, our individual lives do not seem to matter at all. Of course, many of us believe that on a small scale we do matter, because we are important to the people close to us. We feel as though our lives are significant, because our children, parents, and friends think we are important to them. Of course, if their lives are also insignificant, does it really matter what we do for them?

Philosophers will tell us that just living is enough. If we simply enjoy whatever time we have, that should be sufficient. Just live, they say. However, for me, that philosophy only works if I resign myself to the idea that my individual life is meaningless. I have some trouble with that concept. I would like to be part of something much larger. Can I make a difference to the world? Can I change the course of history? Can I improve life for future generations? Probably not, but what does it matter anyway, because even on a larger scale, my accomplishments will come to an end – and become meaningless.

How about a religious approach? Many believe our lives on Earth are spent in preparation for a personal relationship with God, so it doesn't matter if their Earthly lives are meaningless. The whole point of life would be to do God's will. The problem with this solution for many people lies in the fact that too many questions remain unanswered. Faith gives them the connection they need to something larger, which, in turn, gives their lives meaning.

Still, too much remains unanswered. The concept of God is not explainable by man. For many, there lies the answer! God is the term used to explain away everything not explainable. That's faith, and it works for some, but not for others. Looking from the outside in at our lives, they seem meaningless, unless we simply conclude that we cannot understand it anyway, so we rely on the unexplainable to explain it.


I remember sitting alone in my backyard years ago. Based on something I read in my philosophical studies, I began to watch an ant colony at work. The ants were quite organized. They each had their roles. They worked hard on behalf of the whole colony. They systematically built a mound of sand, and carried food to the occupants inside. I started thinking about the fact that these organized, fascinating creatures could not possibly understand Einstein's Theory of Relativity. However, their lack of intellectual capability did not render Einstein's Theory incorrect. It simply meant that the truth was beyond their capacity to understand. Could it be that the concept of God is reality, and we just can't understand it? Sure, I suppose. That's faith.

But that is looking at life from the outside in, and as we face the struggles of life, some people crave more. We recognize that we can't understand what we can't understand, just like ants. Nevertheless, while we are alive, it would be nice to take some comfort in the fact that there is individual meaning for our existence.

So here is the bottom line. It is possible to view life from the inside out. We can understand that. Our lives are connected to other lives, and we are meaningful to them, and they to us. Although we would prefer to view ourselves from the outside in as being permanently meaningful to something larger, we can't prove it. However, it makes no sense at all to tell ourselves it really does not matter if we exist, BECAUSE WE DO EXIST! My life is important to my family, because it is.


While many people insist on remaining depressed over what they cannot understand, I prefer to enjoy my life, simply because I have one. I prefer to remain happy every day of my life, simply because it is important to those around me. I refuse to spend my existence assuring myself that the outside world recognizes the meaning of my life. I prefer to take daily comfort in the fact that what is inside of me can be shared with those I love and admire, which gives me purpose. I find it absurd to believe that living the Golden Rule violates the will of any higher Being that exists.


I prefer to follow an old Cherokee Adage: "When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice." To me, that is meaningful.

25 comments:

  1. I love that quote. I also love the subject and have read many books on theories and philosphy. It helps to reflect on things from time to time.

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    1. Miranda: Exactly! I try it at least once each year.

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  2. I believe we were created to experience life. What a gift! We can look back on the past and marvel and how far mankind has come. We can learn from the past too, life is not meaningless.

    Life is full of meaning. And life is what we make it. Just look at all the wonderful things that have come from the past. Life is full of footprints left behind from our life experiences, knowledge, creativeness, technological advancements......

    So before our big beautiful blue marble in the vastness of space is gone. Just think of all the wonderful footprints that those who will come after us will have the joy of experiencing. What a gift!

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    1. Ames: You have a good grip on things.

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  3. Off to a very philosophical new year! I like that ending quote and will try to remember it each day.

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  4. Perhaps life is meaningless, but we can make it meaningful. I am grateful for every minute of my life...

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    1. Julia: I don't believe it is meaningless, but you are correct. We can make it so in any event. I, too, am grateful.

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  5. You have a wonderful outlook on life. Though we can learn a lot from ants, it is important to find new ways to recharge by doing more than just going through the motions. I think you prove this everyday, and there any many others beside your family (including me) who appreciate you.
    Julie

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    1. Julie: Thank you. I truly appreciate everyone with whom I share this planet, even if I don't quite understand them all. Life is a learning experience to be enjoyed to the fullest.

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  6. Well, I think living your life as if it has no meaning is just an awful way to go about it. So, I choose not to do that. I think there is a much broader picture that we cannot see (much like the ants and Einstein's Theory), but that doesn't mean it isn't so, and just because I don't fully grasp it, doesn't mean I cannot embrace it. Life does has meaning. And I will understand it... eventually. So, I just have to have faith until then and LIVE.

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    1. Robin: You could not be more correct. It is a CHOICE.

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  7. What a wonderfully thought-provoking post! And to answer your title question, "No, no, a thousand times no!" Life is NOT meaningless. Our finite existence, when considered alongside the incomprehensible vastness of infinity, may seem to have little or no significance, but if you stop and think about it, each life is a miracle in itself. Why not simply appreciate, and find joy in that miracle, and make the most of it? I may not be here tomorrow, but that's no excuse for not giving today everything I've got.

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    1. Susan: Thank you. That is a perfect attitude. Enjoy your life!

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  8. A great quote indeed, as was every single word you wrote. I'm in total agreement- although, I shall add just a wee bit more to the unit of who we are important to- I believe we are all connected. Beginning with that stranger on the street we pass, exchanging smiles, confirming that life is good- all the way to fellow bloggers like you and me and all our other followers here- we exist together in this wonderful space of life, and I do appreciate knowing you!

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    1. Karen: Exactly! We are all connected. I am a firm believer in the order of Nature. One's life changes dramatically for the better when a person decides to go with the flow, instead of trying to buck it every step of the way.

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  9. Im just stopping by to wish you and your lovely family a very happy and magical new year. We are only here for a short time i never worry about why we are i just live in the moment and embrace it and everyone. dee :-)

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    1. Dee: That is why you are such a wonderful person with a fabulous attitude. I wish you the best of everything in life.

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  10. Me too. I like the Cherokee Adage--although as a youngster I was still too busy crying and making demands--that did go on for a while, longer than it should--well into my forties. The age of wisdom comes late--and usually after a few disappointments, harsh realizations and being knocked around. It is best not to think too much and live in the moment. I had a friend once who thought all of the smartest people were in the asylums because they over thought everything. I thought she might have had a point. Thinking can drive you crazy--or kill you. I now know she had a point: She hung herself in an asylum.

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    1. Linda: That is why it is necessary to think positively, even when one is angry or facing serious dilemmas. Only in that way can we get to enjoy the beauty of life after the storms that are frequent and part of life.

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  11. JJ.... You do such a beautiful, descriptive job in the search for a meaning to life. I can't even respond as I feel all bubbles inside. (No, I don't drink) I'm on a cleanse and I feel as if I had an epiphany. I try not to be picky but I think next time around, I'll try a different constellation.
    Cheers

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  12. Wow JJ... firstly, even though I have never met you face to face...or even seen your face in a picture...You're presence in my world matters, it has made a difference in the time I've gotten to know you in the blogging world. Through reading your beautifully woven words on the screen in front of me, in the sharing of your deepest innermost thoughts, your life stories, lived experiencs and through your warm, comforting comments to me... you have touched me from the other side of the world in what I believe to be a very personal way. You've helped me, probably without even knowing.
    In my opinion, LIFE MATTERS...even though it will eventually meet an end. I am one of those people that believes there is something more and that souls survive. Everyone person matters to another and that is just the start of the reason why life matters and why we should all take pride in how we choose to live those years between our first and last breath. I buried my 97 year old grandmother last week and people travelled from afar to gather together and celebrate her beautiful life. I can tell you, she mattered. There was not a dry eye for many days and her stories will live on in our hearts and minds forever. She will never be forgotten because those she spent her lifetime loving will tell her stories and pass them on for years to come. It all matters!!

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    1. Kath: Life matters to me as well, and I am flattered that I have positively impacted yours as well. We are all connected, and I felt your love for your grandmother all the way on this side of our planet. Please accept my sincerest condolences.

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