Why Am I Here? Or, If I Wasted My Life, Would I Know It?
Like lots of people who feel frustrated about their relative amount of personal productivity, I’ve been reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Like most books I read, I’m reading it in fits and starts, every so often, when I’m interested. It’s a good, common sense book that has equal parts “well, yes, that’s kind of obvious” and “oh yeah! Why didn’t think of that before?!” in it.
Stevie C talks about the four quadrants of stuff we do. Since I’m too lazy to create paste a chart in my post, imagine with me. You’ve got this 4 quadrant grid. On the left column, you’ve got “Important” and on the right you’ve got “Not Important.” On the top row you’ve got “Urgent” and at the bottom, “Not Urgent”. You can group your stuff into the four quadrants. Paying your taxes is probably both important and getting somewhat urgent (Quadrant 1). Things like staying on top of email with red exclamation points fit into urgent, but not important box (Quadrant 2). Things that matter to the quality of your life–like building relationships and watching homestarrunner.com movies fit into the not urgent, but important quadrant (Quadrant 3). That leaves Quadrant 4, which is there for things that aren’t particularly urgent or important, like most other websites (perhaps including this one).
The thing is, how we divide up our lives into “important” and “not important” is not particularly straightforward all the time. Most of the time, we wind up doing urgent stuff (Quadrant 3), get overwhelmed and stressed out, and head straight for Quadrant 4 stuff. The result is that we don’t get around to doing anything all that important. We waste our lives without noticing, because we’re busy and/or entertained. Covey says this is because we don’t spend much time actually defining what is important to us. And when it comes to my life, he’s right. I’ve been doing some hard thinking about what is important and whether I was doing it. I wasn’t. Apparently reading the occasional self help book can be valuable, if the author is as insightful as Mr. Stephen Covey.
Your worldview–what you think about what we came from, what a human being is, what our environment is, etc.–impacts how you’ll evaluate whether you’re doing important things with your life, or whether it’s being wasted. For example, if you follow Maslow (and there are lots of good reasons to) you see yourself as a bundle of complex needs. The human animal’s job is to go about meeting these needs–be they for food, shelter, and safety, for community, or for accomplishment. If you follow Nietzsche, you don’t see any inherent value in human life at all–except the values that are imputed by humans. Nietzsche’s philosophy might not give you any guidance in determining what values you must obey, but Nietzsche the man certainly would be happy to provide you with insights as far as the things he deems important–human responsibility, empowerment, culture, nobility, and choice. From another perspective, a Christian worldview certainly sees human life as having intrinsic value apart from what humans think or choose. A classic formulation of the Christian answer to the “why am I here” question is, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Christianity (and in this case, I mean the belief shared by pretty much all the diverse followers of Jesus around the world) sees humans as created and loved by God, and made to serve and be in relationship with Him. Christians believe that God made the world for God, and God gave himself to the world.
So anyway, what you believe about the nature of human beings directly impacts what’s important to you–and should thus impact how you live your life. Right?
So that was my intro for our Feb meeting. The questions up for discussion were,
So what do you think people are here for? What’s your worldview? What, if anything, is the purpose of human life?
Do you actually live life as if that’s what you believe? If not, what would you do differently if you wanted your life to reflect what you think humans are here for?
It was a lively discussion. People at our table were across the spectrum in terms of whether values were intrinsic to the universe or something purely chosen by humans. I think we were all challenged. I won’t give anything away, because that conversation was between individuals, not on the internet. But it’s a conversation that bears thinking about. Have you ever thought about what your life is for? If you care to comment, feel free to let us in on your thoughts.
During discusson at Gray’s, it was challenging to articulate our worldview to people who didn’t totally share it. And I think we were challenged to ask ourselves whether our worldview was comprehensive enough that it merited staking our lives on it. Some of us chose our approach to life because we felt it “works” for us. If that’s how we fell into our worldview, if we’re honest, we usually come around to the question, “Do I believe this because it’s what I want to believe, or is there some kind of basis in reality for my beliefs that other people can affirm or deny?” If you stake your life on a belief that is convenient, you might be wasting life on a fantasy. On the other hand, there are those of us who came to our worldview because we were aiming at scientific fact, verifiability, and infallibility–and if that’s how we got to where we are, we usually have to ask ourselves if our worldview is enough to give us guidance on how to live our lives, deal with pain, or find joy.
I wanted some parting questions for people to think about in light of our conversation, and I share them here, too. When you’re evaluating your worldview (or any worldview for that matter), it might be good to ask,
- Can the worldview direct my life? If not, where do I get direction?
- What does this worldview say about people outside this world view? Does it care? How do I have a conversation with outsiders? Is my worldview realistic about how that conversation will go?
- What does it do with insights of “non believers”? Can outsiders have any truth?
- On the other hand, is my worldview too easy? If it lets everyone believe what they want, does it say anything that can possibly benefit my (or anyone else’s) life?
- Does my belief system depend on historical antecedents? What kinds of evidence do I have for my worldview’s historical claims?
- Did I make my worldview up, or does it come from outside? Does it claim to come from divine revelation, a grand tradition, myself? Are the sources for my tradition reliable enough to stake my life on it? Are they good authorities?
- According to my worldview, what’s my status if I fail?
- According to my worldview, what’s the payoff if I succeed?
- How much explanatory power does the worldview contribute to my understanding of the world I live in?
- How much explanatory power does the worldview contribute to the struggles of life?
- What does the worldview do with the reality of pain?
- What does the worldview do with the reality of joy?
- How does the worldview direct me to be and behave in community with the natural world?
- How does it direct me to be and behave in community with your fellow human beings?
- How does believing what you believe impact my behavior? My character? My thought life? My relationships with others? My mood?
Not having answers to all these questions doesn’t mean you or I are entirely wrong about the nature of the universe. But if these kind of questions keep us awake at night, it might mean we have some maturing to do. So let’s talk.
What? There’s nothing but blank space and no comments below this post? Well, feel free to get the ball rolling. Tell a joke or something.
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