To start the book on the most abstract philosophical issues with one of philosophy’s “big question” and there is no bigger issue to most of us than the “the meaning of our lives”.” What would be important to us in our lives” and “what should we strive to live for”.
These are the questions that all of us sooner or later face and usually more than once. We struggle with the meaning of our lives in our twenties as we choose careers and relationships. A decade or two later we may encounter it as part of our “midlife crises”. We face it yet again as we grow old and assess how well we did with the time and opportunities that we had.
In short, everyone has to figure out what life is all about.
The big question takes many forms:
– What am I am doing with my life?
– What is my purpose in the world?
– What do I need to be happy?
– What’s it all about?
– There got to be more to life. What is it?
– I have everything I thought I wanted. Why am I not happy?
These questions represent a common basic need to find some overarching sense of purpose that gives meaning to the small events in our daily life. We all need a big picture and a feeling for were we all fit into it.
In fact to start with my assumption which is every society promotes a kind of “official” idea about what life is all about. In the contemporary western world if not in our all global world at the moment we find largely materialistic, individualistic and secular view of the purpose of life.
Television, movies advertisements, and the various print – digital media show “successful” people as having one thing in common: They make a lot of money and fill their lives with material comforts.
To accomplish this of course you have to look out for being #1 and compete aggressively perhaps not ethically for your share of the pie. If you succeed you will assure your happiness in this your one and only life.
The idea of the goal of life says nothing about says nothing about what we do for other people only what we can buy for ourselves. It ignores the way of being that we could exist in our lives and how we can live more passionately in our lives.
It also makes no reference to any spiritual dimension or leap of faith in life. As it may ignore our emotional growth, intellectual development and the quality of relationships that we could have.
You might object that this characterization ignores the value many people place on patriotism, public service and religion. Yet these values are not really essential to the notion of success endorsed by our culture.
In the United States, as long as you have enough money, you are considered successful. You may be selfish, greedy, and ignorant and narrow- minded. You may even have been convicted of a crime and spent time in prison. But if you have a lot of money, people overlook all that and consider you “successful” anyway.
In ancient Greece by contrast, making money was less important than being a responsible member of your community. That what made you a “success”. If you were rich but took no active role in the politics of your city you were seriously shrinking your duties, you were tolerated but neither admired nor respected.
Certain American families like the Rockefellers and the Kennedys for example have imbued their members with the idea that they have a responsibility to do more with their money and talent than the “idle rich” do. But this is unusual as in general today we measure how “successful” we are by how much luxury we can obtain for ourselves. Service to others or being a passionate existent in your life is not part of the calculation.
Many people are indeed strongly influenced by some of the religious tradition but western and global culture has become increasingly secular overtime. Religion and religions institutions are not as central to modern global societies as they were during the middle ages and reformation. Religion has moved from public to private arena.
Our heroes are important sign of what we think life is supposed to be about. Who are they? Athletes, rock singers television and movies stars, wealthy business people meaning the rich and the famous. But who on the contrary are not our heroes? Nurses, physicians, who run people clinics for the poor and make very little money. Also social workers, police officers, firefighters and teachers and people in the government and public service.
Humble spiritual people and ordinary people quietly trying to make life better for the people around them.
A society’s heroes tell much about what our global culture believes about the meaning of our lives and the nature of our happiness. Any list of contemporary global heroes simply reinforces the dominant western values of individualism, materialism and secularism.
Most people’s fantasy is to hit the lottery and retire but not to find a cure for cancer or to bring peace to troubled regions in the world or simply to live a passionate living they would be proud of.