I’m looking at a crummy title. The “meaning of life”? Really? Could it really be that easy? As the Dalai Lama says, “To be happy and useful.” Seems simple.
A short time ago, I published an article What if this is all there is? My wife, Jan, asks the same question in somewhat different way, in a somewhat different article, Meaningful Conversations. Her question is (implied) what is the value of “small talk” vs. “meaningful conversation.
We have all been through a lot recently.
- A viral pandemic that has ravaged the earth, along with all of its political and financial complication. Something that none of us, even in our wildest imaginings could have foreseen.
- The shame of slavery–one human being using and subjugating another for profit–thrown up in our faces. The result of an illustration–in this case, police brutality–which could have been illustrated just about any other way.
- The collapse of a civilization (perhaps). Of which the previous two challenges–disease and cruelty–are but symptoms.
Starting backwards, last point first: humans are the only creatures that are capable of cruelty. An animal is incapable of deliberately inflicting pain–for any reason–on one of its own, or on any other species. Human beings are alone in being capable of doing this–of letting it happen. If we aren’t deliberately being cruel, can’t we focus on being kind instead? How about deliberately touching someone in a kind and meaningful way?
Second bullet point: When is it cruel to just fly on autopilot? To just let racial injustice and mistreatment happen? When we have the capability as humans to do otherwise? To behave in a kind, belonging way? Autopilot is always wrong, if not merely misguided. And as a human being–having the biggest brain and world dominance (at least, we think)–there’s GOT to be something wrong with just flying on autopilot and saying, “The status quo is good enough,”
This is possibly the point of Jan’s article. Why fly on auto (“small talk”) when we can offer so much more?
First bullet point last. Yes, we are living in “unprecedented times”. (Aren’t you getting tired of that phrase.) However, there are footnotes throughout history about how humans have dealt with prolonged isolation; the daily threat of disease and the loss of not only family, but a way of life (i.e. how to grieve). The 1918 flu pandemic is often used as an example. The early-20th century flu pandemic was in a lot ways a very similar experience. However, if you Google “the 1918 influenza pandemic art”, you will see powerful images and occasionally even a musical score (as below) that was generated as a result of the pain, and separation that resulted from the world being gripped by another horrible disease.
I’ll stop here and let you listen to the Dalai Lama, as he talks us through, what the meaning of life may be…