The Unexamined Life


I run across people, on the Web and elsewhere, who seem directionless. They don’t seem engaged with their lives. Some seem simply to exist passively, with little pleasure and no discernible joy. Others flail around at this and that, become intrigued or outraged by every small thing that crosses their path and may, briefly, stop off and register their interest in some way. However, when push comes to shove, if you ask them what moves them, what their passion might be, they are often unable to answer. If they do, it’s often with a caveat: too old, too young, not enough time, can’t afford it, and so forth.

There is a temptation to think of those folks as shallow and superficial, but that is an arrogant (not to mention judgmental) attitude. It is not up to me to weigh the importance of someone else’s life, their degree of satisfaction and joy, or their lack thereof. I do, however, see folks who I believe could be happier, and I suspect that’s because they haven’t looked deeply enough into themselves. They haven’t identified the one or two things that they feel strongly enough to act on, instead of reacting.

I think everyone needs such an avocation: not a job, not a hobby, but something that is so important to them personally that they would work at it — whether or not for pay — in preference to many of the things that we conventionally think of as “fun.” Self-fulfillment is a basic human need, and I believe that in order to be happy we must pursue it in some way. We may not be able to change the world, but we can change our little corner of it, a little bit. We may not be able to affect history, but we can affect the future of individuals.

We can drive a disabled vet to the store or to the VA hospital. We can read to someone who is unable. We can volunteer as a Big Brother or Sister. We can call up a church, a charitable organization, a library, and ask if they need people to help with anything at all. We can volunteer at a local nature center and turn our love of critters or plants into an enthusiastic presentation that will engage budding naturalists. There are hundreds of such things that we can do, if we but look for them — things that allow us to make a difference that we can see, that is tangible, that can bring us satisfaction and fruits that we probably can’t imagine yet. The people I see doing these sorts of thing nearly always seem fulfilled and happy.

I’ve got mine. It’s not posting links on blogs or Facebook, not even writing essays like this. Those are things I do when I’m distracted. It doesn’t matter what I do. What matters is what you do. I’ve found mine.

Have you? Will you look? Will you at least think about it?

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Author: Bill

Birder, cat-lover, pilot, poet. Former lounge lizard, pauper, pagan, lifeguard, chauffeur,cop and martial artist, turned pacifist addiction writer. Tries to be a good husband, father and brother, and makes a decent friend. Likes to take pictures. Stumbling down the Middle Path, one day at a time.

1 thought on “The Unexamined Life”

  1. What you’re talking about is the search for a pleasurable life, a good life and a meaningful life.

    Good and meaningful, yes. Pleasurable, not necessarily. There is much satisfaction and spiritual growth to be found in sitting with a person dying of cancer, in bearing witness to the inhumanity of a penal execution, or the mistreatment of food animals (for example), but not always a lot of pleasure.

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