As a philosopher, or at least a dabbler in philosophical thought, I find the burning quest of my life is to find the meaning in everything. Why the heck am I alive? Why do remote controls always get misplaced? Why is my tax rate such a higher percentage when I work a ton of overtime? What is the larger point of my dayjob? What do I bother to get up in the morning?
Admittedly, this tendency is a backstabbing one at times. Looking at that last question in particular, asking myself that question at the wrong time can lead to a depressive or anxious retreat from the world. “Why bother?” might be the most difficult question to answer without sounding like a flower-filled rainbow of bullshit. The answers that come to mind are so unsatisfying to a mindset which has twisted into depression, fear, or nihilism, things like, “Because life is beautiful” and “Because you should be grateful for every breath you are honored to take” and “God loves you” all fall on deaf ears.
“Life is NOT entirely beautiful, it is full of ugliness and suffering when is apparent everywhere I go, in every news report, even outside my window and on my drive to work. Ugly.”
“I never asked to be born, to breathe thousands of breaths through a struggling existence. How can I be grateful for something I’m not convinced I even wanted to begin with? Not to mention the air quality here is shit, and I’m constantly choking on my own mucous.”
“God loves me? Ha. Okay. Then he, she, or it is a sadist and a narcissist who loves me in such a way that it is plum dandy for me to be miserable, lonely, afraid, and in pain and struggle 95% of the time. If that’s how God treats those he loves, I want a divorce.”
Rainbow wisdom is all well-and-good, even a truthful and wise way to look at things, but there is a counter point, however unwise it may be which is also true, so these are not helpful in the determination of meaning, in finding a reason to bother. All of the things listed thus-far are things outside of immediate personal control. I can’t stop breathing, unless I kill myself. I can’t make life more beautiful just by waving my hand and proclaiming it so (as much as positive thinking gurus might say otherwise, it’s unsustainable and even dangerous to go around in a cloud of bubblegum drops and candy unicorns). And I certainly cannot be convinced that the universe or God or whatever has affection for me while I sit in a state of pain with no obvious way out.
So why bother? This might be the post-modern question of the century. Do you know why you bother? To do whatever it is you do everyday? Asking it in such a broad way makes it difficult to answer in any way that doesn’t sound like a low-resolution image of a planet you never even heard of. So here we go. Let’s ask some more specific, nitty gritty questions.
Why do I bother to feed my dog? Well, because I love my dog and don’t want her to suffer and starve. I want her to be happy and healthy, because I have taken responsibility for her well-being. I couldn’t possibly do anything else, because she is like a part of me. It would hurt me if she wasn’t thriving. Even in my darkest hours, I will take care of her, because she is mine.
Same applies to my cat for that matter. And his disgusting dusty catbox. And walking the dog. And bathing her. And cleaning up after their various messes. And maintaining a degree of patience and softness when they are being obnoxious and inconvenient to what I’m trying to do. Because I love them. They are mine.
Okay. That’s very different, isn’t it? Why do I bother holding onto my grandmother and great-grandfather’s WWI and WWII medals? My family is full of selfish narcissists and addicts, so it isn’t some devotion to family really, and I have no reason to care they were involved in a war before I was born, I didn’t even know my great grandfather, so it is irrelevant, right? No. Even in my darkest hours, I see those medals as a sign of a strain of strength that does exist within my family, however much it may have lost it’s way in the more recent generations. My grandmother had her failings too, some worse than my direct family, but ultimately, she had a strength of character to risk her own well-being to protect her land and her family. I will never forsake honoring the sacrifices made or my hope that spark can still be ignited in my family at large, no matter their sins. Those sacrifices are a part of who I am and why I’m here. That hope is a part of me, a spark in me. It is mine to nurture.
Well look at that, it applies to inanimate objects too, so it isn’t just about a love of animals and pets, I also own a semblance of my family. Weird. Yet if I ask the general question of why bother, it is difficult to think of these things. So perhaps the generalized “why bother?” is the wrong question to ask. Perhaps the better question is “What do I want to take responsibility for? What do I own? What do I take personal responsibility for without question?”
I take responsibility for my pets, and animals at large when they are in need. I accept I can’t always help, and will lose every animal I come across ultimately, but I respect them, and will own their best interests at every opportunity, because I feel connected to them. Animals are one phenomena which give my life meaning.
I take responsibility for the well-being of my partner. I acknowledge and accept his well-being is his own to craft, but I will do everything in my power to be what he needs, or help him get what he needs. I will honor his truth even when it conflicts with my own at times, because I want him to continue to be his own man. He is mine, but he is also his own.
I take responsibility for the spark of hope in my family, even humanity at large, that people are stronger than they think, more courageous than they will ever realize, and are capable of the greatest of kindnesses. There is no person too twisted where I will abandon all hope for the spark within them, because I know from experience that even the most evil among us have a strain of goodness which could break through under the right circumstances. There are no lost causes. There are no evil people, only evil actions and mindsets. I own that faith, and act accordingly with patience and hope for everyone, even if I accept I cannot personally bring anyone into the light of any power of my own. Even if I do not have the power to make anyone light up again, I will never lose faith that they can, because it is part of who I am. It is mine.
That last one is the key, I think, to how I have broken out of every depression I’ve ever had. Something I watched, something I listened to, something I read, something someone said, ultimately reminded me of why “Life is beautiful”. It is beautiful because there is hope in humanity. And I cannot lie back and let hope get extinguished by the suffering of life. I have to be out there reminding humanity of just how amazing they are, while criticizing just how shitty they are, because if one is not aware of how they are wrong, how can they figure out how to be right? My ultimate meaning, ironically given my personality, is to act as a cheerleader for humanity on one hand, and a critic of humanity on the other, in order to expand awareness of their ultimate potential. My meaning is to provide hope.
It’s easy to get discouraged when one’s meaning is to provide hope to humanity. It is extremely difficult to become the example I need to be to fulfill that function effectively. Or perhaps more difficult to be honest about my own utter inability to be a decent example of humanity’s hope. Perhaps that is a role best left to deities, and I’m just another human roaming about hoping for the best, and being as honest as I can, about the good and the bad parts of what I see and experience in the world. And folks can take what they can from what I have to offer, which isn’t nothing, at the very least. And I guess that’s good enough. It may not always seem like enough, but I think it is.
Yeah. That’s why I bother. How about you?
PS: Anyone looking for meaning, I highly recommend you listen to the various ramblings of Jordan Peterson on Youtube or elsewhere. He has an unfortunate reputation among some demographics which is not deserved. Listen to what he has to say before you criticize. He knows a thing or two about finding meaning, in fact, it would seem to be his life’s mission.
Image from: https://theunderbelly.org/2017/09/why-bother/