I was talking with my sweetie Anja* about an article from The Economist that was displayed as an ad on the subway.
— *Yes, I broke up a couple of months ago, and yes, I do have a sweetie again now. 🙂 I tend to be lucky in love – I feel very blessed. —
The article mentioned a pair of new space tourism companies that had sprung up, offering nine-digit priced (e.g. in the hundreds of millions) trips to the moon.
I said something like, “If I were a billionaire I’d want to do that. Except that I’d think of the amazing things I could do with that money, and I wouldn’t.”
After a short time, I added the thought, “Wouldn’t it be technically murder if you spent that amount of money on something so superficial when it could unequivocally be used to save hundreds or thousands of lives?”
Anja said, “Yes, but we could all be saving lives, right? If we take that logic all the way, we should all be doing whatever we can to help people.”
I replied that I have spent a long time thinking about this sort of thing and it is my intention to take this sort of thinking all the way. However, I said, I realised that to help others I have to help myself, which is why I’m in a phase of my life where I don’t spend a huge amount of time helping others directly.
(I’ll also add that I don’t believe in the concept of murder really, as it’s a judgement — a condemnation. But I do believe in the moral imperative that brings us to avoid killing and to attempt to save lives, and which brings us to all the smaller but also important ways of protecting, healing and improving the lives of others. I believe this moral imperative can exist without judgement. In fact, judgement obscures it).
Let me tell you how I arrived at this point of view.
I’ve never wanted to run away from the big questions of life. Well – hence this website. In one way or another I’m trying to share here all that I’ve found while facing down the scary big questions.
Some say not to think too much about meaning because it can lead to depression. Well, my parents said that. Though I think a lot of people make this warning. It’s true – working out a consistent and moral world view is an immense task, and there are a lot of dangers on the way – you can go mad, you can get depressed, and you can believe a lot of very, very weird things. I’ve done all three, but I was adamant on finding my answers and so eventually I did. At least, some of them – I think I found a good working bedrock for my worldview.
At one point, then, I got very depressed. It was for many reasons, but one of the deepest and most painful was the lack of meaning in my life. I wanted to find out why my life felt hollow, find out what it was lacking.
I was told I needed friends (not true, I needed connection). I was told I needed to get a job (not true, I needed to find and live my passion). I was told I needed to accept authority (not true, I needed to accept my inner authority — which was warning me about how bullshit almost all concepts of external authority really are).
As depression burned me up, I lost my ideas of what was valuable.
Getting rich didn’t seem so valuable any more.
Getting recognition as a great scientist didn’t make so much sense. (That was the job I’d likely have gone for if I’d followed the route that I was being pressured to go down).
Getting friends or girlfriends who didn’t vibe with me as a person was proving more and more hollow.
I didn’t know what I wanted to live for – nothing seemed right.
And I know I was willing to die. Existence hurt too much. I was willing to get rid of all of that – except for the seed of hope that told me that something was worth living for.
That seed was an instinct, an inner knowledge. Something in me already knew what I wanted to know.
As time went by I homed in on that. It’s the most precious jewel I now possess: the knowledge, more or less, of who I am. From who I am springs the meaning of my life.
The acceptance that I was ready to die gave me a lot of things.
It made me stand and fight, rather than continue running away from my problems.
It gave me the sort of gung-ho fearlessness about doing what I feel that has brought me so far.
And it gave me the knowledge that most things are not valuable. I was ready to die rather than pursue a hollow life. Only by finding something really valuable was I able to continue life.
This is why, I think, I’m ready to give my life to making the world a better place. In a way I don’t have a life otherwise; I don’t have anything valuable I can lose. Not even love could make me want to live, because love is hollow when it’s just something you do in your free time. For love to be worthwhile, it has to be everything I am.
I can survive, I think, with ease on this planet. Self-oriented pleasures are easy to get too and I only need a certain amount of them to be well — too many would scream of hollowness. Which means that unless I find some way of expanding them out of proportion, which I don’t want to do, there is a big amount of energy and time I can, and need to, direct.
I think helping others naturally flows out of the way I see life. I want to take my beliefs all the way — or else shed them. And I believe that when you can help someone, when the value of the cost to you is less than the gain for the other person, it’s logical to help them.
I say “logical” because I don’t want to say “should”. I don’t think there is an external authority saying you “should” do anything. But I do think that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves. Our being isn’t limited by our body. In some way, what we are expands beyond us into everything that is. Into every being that exists. We are a part of everything and everything is a part of us.
That’s not philosophy, it’s just true – when does the air we breathe in stop being a part of the outside world and start being a part of our blood? When does our skin stop being us – in the outer layer of dead cells, or when the dead cells fall off, or when those dead cells decompose and are incorporated into the environment? What if the air we breathe came out of someone else’s bloodstream? What if the skin we lost entered a plant and became someone else’s food?
Once we were bacteria, and those bacteria joined together and became one larger organism. So are we, as individual humans, one, or one trillion? And what if each of us humans were like those bacteria? Couldn’t we say that our society is the same as the grouping together of bacteria into a larger being?
Selfishness is based on a philosophy – an idea that we are separate. In that philosophy it’s “logical” to exist for just yourself. But if we accept that we are something else – if we believe and even come to feel as an instinct that we are part of everything – that logic doesn’t function anymore.
This is why it’s “logical” for me that when we can help others, we do.
Not doing so isn’t “wrong” for me. At least not “wrong” as in “evil”. Just “wrong” as in “incorrect”. That’s just a faulty vision of who we are.
There is no “should” because “should” assumes an external authority and I accept none above myself. And, with this vision of humanity, I don’t need one to keep me in line. I act with kindness, not because I’m cowed or threatened, but because I am.
So this is how I came to my decision to dedicate my life to helping others.
Life felt hollow and I knew that there was a need to find meaning beyond pleasure and survival. I searched for meaning and through an intense depression realised I was ready to die rather than walk the path of conformity and emptiness. This gave me the bravery to drop the superficial goals and desires I had and work towards a different vision of life, even though it was one that I had few real role models for and very little assurance would work.
I knew that I had a vast amount of creative power that would manifest in one way or another in my life. I could have used it for self destruction, maybe conformity (though I think I’m too intense for that)… or something else.
Coming to know myself and understanding myself as part of something bigger gave me that something.
All this has been broken down fairly logically of course – in real life there was a lot more confusion, and I was often just scrabbling in the dark and didn’t even know what I was looking for. But an instinct, and a need to become consistent with my beliefs and desires, lead me to this conclusion. I broke down the false in me and found the true and there it was. It was a roundabout path but I think the conclusion was there all the time, just waiting for me to find it.
So is this a good path for others?
I think there are two main reasons to be here. One is to learn something spiritually. The other is to support others.
We’re all here to evolve and I think we are all supposed to evolve towards the understanding, the instinct, that we are all one. Just because it’s true, and because the greatest existential joy comes from this place of being.
I know that is my opinion but it seems to be backed up by the world’s most prominent religions and cultural beliefs. Almost everyone believes that kindness is a good thing – though I think not everyone knows what love really means.
I think as soon as we evolve to a place where we can feel the beingness of others as part of our own beingness, our purpose is largely to act in accord with that understanding. The world is crying out for help in many ways, and I can’t see many things that could possibly be more important than that right now. Only if you are so deeply in need that you need to attend to yourself first could I see much point in having a very self-oriented life. Because the world is deeply in need.
I believe that we are spirit, and that we live on beyond death. I believe that what dies isn’t worth clinging to. Love and spiritual deepening live on forever and are therefore meaningful.
If you’re unsure on these topics, I think it’s worth spending some time getting sure about them. Sure, it may be hard, but I can’t think of anything more worth it. It’s only your entire life we’re talking about here 🙂
Love to you!!