What Do You Mean By The “Meaning of Life”?

There are a few questions people enjoy chewing on endlessly. Some of them inevitably come up, when people discuss longevity or mortality. One of these sloppy questions is “the meaning of life”. Let’s see what’s sloshing around in little minds when they appear to ask The Big Question. 

Stupid questions can only yield stupid answers – as we should all know by now from Douglas Adams. In his particular case, the question was the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

In other words, they didn’t even know what they were asking. I wouldn’t even call it a question. I have great respect for real questions and the curiosity that motivates them. A good answer may not always answer itself, but it may point at your own thinking mistakes.

Asking about “the meaning of life” is just wishful laziness. Wishful, because they want the answer to be: “whatever you are doing already”. Lazy, because they don’t even want to think about it honestly, and wouldn’t accept an inconvenient answer.

So let me break down the ambiguities behind the seemingly real question of the Meaning of Life.

  1. Whose life?

Are we looking for an individual answer, or a group-based one? Is it for me or for humankind? And if it’s for me, is the answer supposed to be the same for everyone?

Substitute answers to this particular fallacy include:

  • Adopting a life role and keeping busy living up to it. Bitching about how that life role is hard/unfair and how others have it easier is optional.
  • The hippie fallacy. Hippies were up to something, but they went about it the lazy way. They wanted to take shortcuts they didn’t understand – like enlightenment through drugs -, and (surprise) it lead them where they wanted to be in the first place: Into the intellectual coziness of unfreedom.
  • Also, for some reason these people imagined that the answer must be some sort of collective enlightenment, when humankind as such would finally learn something. Everyone. Simultaneously. They didn’t want to go alone, they wanted company. This just tells you how attached these people still were to the opinion of others. Seeing the truth is not good enough – others have to confirm that I’d seen it.

I have yet to see a person, who can combine in his little head the possibility that the answer is not pre-scripted and that others may not be able to follow you there – or even pat you on the head for achieving it.

2. And what exactly do you mean by “meaning”?

An achievement? A state? Any quantifiable result? A purpose? If so, individual purpose, or that of humankind?

A manual that tells you what to do? Orders?

A function? If so, to whom? To what end? Do I have to agree with that end or does it just come to me?

A definition? You are most certainly in bad need of a definition for “life”, but my guess is, you won’t like it.

Or do you happen to seek happiness? Just because that’s a different question entirely and you should rephrase your enquiry. Happiness is a symptom of something else, but a symptom one can try to create without the underlying substance. One shouldn’t be proud of it, but it’s fairly simple.

What people really mean, when they ask their sloppy, little questions is this:

  1. Someone please give me an identity!

  2. What should I do now?

  3. Just tell me I’m OK!

Eudaimonia jumps into mind. The only two question you ever have to ask yourself is

  1. Who am I?
  2. What do I want?

And you have to ask yourself and yourself only.

And no, choosing from prefabricated life roles and using them as a substitute identity does not suffice either. And no one should give you a purpose either, and no, they shouldn’t even “just give you an idea“. You have a lifetime to come up with answers – just like everyone else. But you concern yourself with auxiliary questions instead, such as:

Why could I not give myself an identity and purpose?

Let’s find something to blame for not answering these questions and not doing my only job in life.

There is a comfortably long list of excuses to choose from. In fact, the non-answer has been scripted for you. All you have to do is accept every life role and every little compromise that comes your way, until you couldn’t drop them without hurting someone. And then you can look at me, point at those life burdens and ask if I really want you to hurt them. Is that what I want? Is that what I’m suggesting?

I know you would drop them if I took the responsibility.

For some, excuses are as good as actual delivery – and they expect me to accept their excuse in lieu of an answer. But it’s not me, who asked for these answers, it’s you. So how do you want to satisfy yourself with excuses? I couldn’t care less about your (stupefyingly predictable) excuses but it’s not me, who has to validate them. It’s you. So keep them in. Just say you didn’t deliver and hold in your excuses. I know they want out. But that’s my point exactly.

So, as Douglas Adams said, the answer was 42. Now keep looking for a real question.

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