What really matters?
Nothing really matters? Or nothing really matters? Or nothing really matters!?
Well, I’m just trying to get at what you mean when you say that “nothing really matters.”
What I mean is this: we are born, who knows why; we live for a while—maybe a short while, maybe a long while, but only a while; then we die, leaving it all (whatever that will have been) right where we left it. So, given our lack of immortality, nothing ultimately really matters. Things might matter or seem to matter during our sojourn here. But that is about it.
Should I feel negatively about this insight of yours?
Feel whatever you want.
Well, okay, but I am soliciting advice. Assuming that your insight is correct, then what’s life all about? If it doesn’t really ultimately matter what I do, whether I help or hurt others, whether I am ambitious or lackadaisical, what would you advise me to take up as a stance, if you will, towards life?
Well, how about this: This life might be best thought of as a play or a game in which you are a player no matter whether you like it or not. It seems to have a way or at least some finite number of ways about it in which you can make your play in it not completely unbearable. Find those ways, go with that flow. Don’t misunderstand: I mean go with that flow, not just the way any flow happens to go. Find the way, then go with that flow as best you can.
Vague advice. Thank you.
You’re welcome. But it’s a vague game.
So absurdism? Surrealism? Existentialism?
Maybe, sort of…but I wouldn’t look at it quite like that. That way of trying to look at things implies that one of those ways is the best or most valid or most accurate way of thinking about life. I don’t really think that’s right, even given my profound insight that nothing matters. Nothing matters, but everything is important…or at least it can be important. To me, to you, to people we love. Cosmically, of course, it just is all going to go the way I said. Me, you, all we love…all will be gone in the blink of an eye. But why should that matter? It matters not at all to our way while we’re all here. That fact, in other words, matters just as little as whether I become a great scholar, the President of the United States, or a bull-fighter…cosmically speaking. If you are waiting for some external touchstone to make itself known so you can know how you are doing, forget it! In fact, that is more than just futile. It’s bad. Bad for you, bad for me, bad for the ones you love.
I don’t get it.
Look, let’s say you want to do well by the ones you love – of course you do! What would that take? A deep relationship with the cosmos and eternity? Wow! If those you love have to wait around for you to get settled with that, they may find it better to push on without you. What it takes, rather, is a deep relationship with them for no further reason at all! In fact, if you do have some “reason” for that relationship, then, well, it’s all a little suspect, don’t you think? Is it because they pay your rent or do your laundry or look good on your arm at cocktail parties? How profound!
Okay, love is without why. I get it. But I can’t just sit around gazing at those I love and just emote love in their direction all day long. I have to do something. Right?
I guess. Sure…you have to do something.
Okay, so what do I do?
Why are you asking me?
I am asking you because that’s what we’re having a conversation about. A conversation about life’s direction.
Can life have a direction regardless of what you do? Is life waiting around for you to do something so it can have a direction?
Are you saying that our choices of actions have no bearing on life’s direction?
But what if life’s direction is about the fact that we choose and not about what we choose?
That cannot be right. Whether I choose to be a scholar or I choose to be a thief matters.
It won’t matter is 100 years…or 500…or 100,000 years.
No, but it will matter now. It is not just that I can choose one or the other. It is that I choose the one and not the other.
What about this choice: What if you had to choose either to be a physician or to be a painter? Would that matter?
Yes, I suppose.
Okay, so what do you choose?
Well, what am I good at?
Are you saying that one should always do what one is good at?
It can be a guide towards bliss, can’t it.
I guess. But couldn’t it also be a pathway to servitude?
Suppose you are good at math. Everyone always tells you that you are good at math. They always buy you a nice gift when you come home with an A in math. You are recruited to become an actuary because you are good at math. Actuaries get paid well and have excellent job security. Why would you not be an actuary? Except, you’d rather be a dancer. You are not as good at dancing as you are at math. The job prospects for dancers are horrible compared to those for actuaries. But you love dancing. You want to be a dancer. What do you do?
I see your point. I guess you have to have a job.
You have to have a job?
So long as you are living in this NON-utopia, you need a job.
Okay, physician or painter?
Painters don’t have the best job prospects.
Let’s say you have a patron who will provide for you. You might not get as much as a physician makes, but you will not starve. Which do you choose?
Am I a better doctor or painter?
You are equally talented.
Then I guess I become a doctor. Wait! I like being a doctor, right?
Yes, let’s say you like being a doctor.
Okay, I would pick physician.
I would help more people.
So one should always pick the path that helps more people.
What if you love to dance but can only tolerate being a physician, even though you are very good at being a physician?
I pick physician.
What if you love to dance but can’t really say you like doctoring at all, except that you are still good at it?
I pick physician.
So no matter what, one should take the path that helps the most people.
Does dancing help anyone?
Not like a physician.
Physicians help sick people (or at least they try). Don’t dancers and other artists help people, both sick and well, to enjoy life, to see more deeply into reality, and so on?
Are you saying that artists are just as “socially useful” as physicians?
Yes. And trash collectors and farmers and firefighters. I am saying that your measure for determining which path to take is flawed. It might help you choose physician over thief, but it is no use for almost every other choice.
So how does one make the choice?
Talent, bliss, fellow-feeling, care and concern, worldly comfort (loosely construed), concrete possibilities. But there is not really any big-picture stance from which to judge these situations.
I think you are depressing me.
Oh, I hope not! I think I am trying to get you to feel liberated. The depression that you think you feel is coming from a removable source. Remove it, and you will feel freer.
What is the source?