Yesterday Maryscott posted a diary on The Meaning of Life. My slightly snarky comment was that we needed a diary with the inverse title that you will find on this diary. I decided this morning, slightly later than I normally post on a Saturday (with school over, I slept late without the cats awakening me), to follow my own advice and post such a diary.
I will, below the fold, offer a few remarks of my own, what makes a life of meaning for me. I hope and encourage others to offer their remarks in the comments. While I fully expect many remarks about family, and I honor those even before I read them, I would hope that we can be encouraged to think and express in addition to that. Surely there is a reason that we are here, that our politics are liberal / progressive or however you wish to describe yourself. For me at least my political orientation is a concomitant aspect of what I believe is my purpose for being here.
For some of us, our remarks are likely to be shaped by our spiritual and religious values. For others the base will be philosophical. For still others it will be derived from personal experience. Form some we will be drive by aspirations towards the positive. For others it will be the opposition to evil, tyranny, or injustice. Whatever it may be, I hope that in the process we will be able to see values that can serve as a means of connection with others, including some with whom we may have current political disputes.
[This is below the fold]
I need to feel that my life makes a difference for others, that what I do has value and meaning to people other than myself and even those closest to me — my wife and her family, my sister and her children. While I was not raised in an overtly religious family, the Jewish background which I imbibed included a strong sense of social justice, of seeing my connection with other people. I have not always been consistent on this, and I admit that I often fail nowadays — I can be selfish and self-centered.
Much of what I have done in my life is to seek to be of service. Thus in my 20+ years of data processing work before becoming a public school teacher, I found myself gravitating away from the private sector to working for my local government. I had to feel that my work efforts were going towards something I valued — and I was finding that I was working too hard to justify the consulting I was doing to organizations with whose goals I disagreed. I decided to work for my local government doing mundane things – data processing for public housing, for library circulation, for water and trash bills, etc. But even that was not enough.
Meanwhile, in my life outside of work, I found myself taking leadership roles in religious, community, and professional organizations. It took me many years, but I began to learn that I did not have to accept every opportunity that came my way, that some positions were appealing to me more for my ego than for the good I could do, and that I needed to reserved time and energy for myself.
As I moved toward teaching, I began to realize that for my life to have meaning, what I did could not be destructive to others. At the end of the day, I would feel very uncomfortable if in my insecurity I had been deliberately or insensitively harmful to others. I started to see that I needed to measure how my words (especially) and my actions were constructive for others rather than merely an assertion of my verbal facility, or a demonstration of how “smart” I could be.
And so, for me the life of meaning has several basic components. First, does what I do or say have at its core the lifting up of others and of the world around me? That does not mean I cannot be critical. Sometimes one is confronted with a mulish situation — that is, in order to change the direction a mule is going, one may metaphorically have to hit it between the eyes with na 2 by 4 to get its attention. But is my criticism part of a process that leads to lifting up, or merely an assertion of what I see as wrong? if the latter, it is insufficient.
Next, do I see how I live and act as interconnected with a much larger environment – my community, my nation, the world? For me, when I start to divide into us versus them, I have for myself started down a fairly slippery slope of self-justification. That does not mean I cannot oppose. It does not limit me from supporting the use of force, sometimes extreme force, in certain situations — as a teacher I am perfectly prepared to use any force available to me to physically protect those students entrusted to my care, which is one reason I break up fights even at the risk of my teaching career (we are not required, and we can be charged with assault when we grab a student in order to stop a fight).
Next, when I look back at things I have done or said, am I able to see them — without rationalizing – as loving? I use this term deliberately. Love does not exclude criticism. It does not exclude discipline. It often contains elements in conflict. But discipline out of anger or hurt is quite different than discipline out of love. As a teacher, discipline from love has the potential to help the student develop self-discipline and self-correction without self-hatred.
Finally, is my vision broad enough that I do not ignore injustice when it seemingly does not directly affect me? I think I first began to wrestle with this question when at age 10 we took a winter trip to Miami and I saw my first signs for segregated bathrooms. Much of my involvement on the progressive/liberal side of political and social issues begins at that point – the realization that some people were (mis)treated differently because of what I found selfish or even evil motivations on the part of those with the power to enforce discrimination.
I am selfish, petty, insecure, shy, fallible, confused, and far too often wrong in my judgments. But if at the end of a day I can on balance see that my words and actions have made a positive difference, I can go to sleep without shame, even as I may resolve to do better in the future. Am I willing to accept correction from others when I am wrong, so that I do not repeat my errors?
Put simply, to me the Life of Meaning is to live a life in which love is expansive. Love seeks to include, not restrict itself to a few. Love gives freedom and empowerment to others, and seeks not to impose. It is not family versus others, it is family and others.
And it is an acknowledgment that life is a pilgrimage. I will fall off the path many times. As long as I am capable of picking myself up, dusting myself off, and start moving again, my life has meaning. I am heading towards the goal of love in the broadest sense.
My politics and my commitment are the outgrowth of this orientation. I cannot accept a political position that condemns others because of their race, their sexual orientation, their religious preference. I can and will oppose those whose actions I see as less expansive in love and care. I will find myself at times challenged to go beyond myself for a cause in which I seemingly have no direct involvement. But I will usually find that once i go beyond my fear and my comfort level, I have the most important connection, and that is our fellow humanity.
Should others post in response to this, I am sure that most will be far more articulate than am I. Some may be able to be more explicit about living a life of meaning shapes their political involvement. I hope we can read each others’ postings with open minds and hearts, so that we do not lose the human connections among ourselves, even if at times we may disagree or misunderstand.
Have a nice Saturday.