Why Bother?

Life can be a real slog sometimes. We encounter obstacles, experience setbacks, and occasionally find ourselves over-matched. And yet, we are expected to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep going. But should we bother?

A single person can change the world. There are many different examples, from Gandhi to Thoreau, from Malala to Greta Thunberg. Committed, passionate individuals can make a difference.

But the chances that you will be one of those people is exceedingly slim. There are more than seven billion people in the world, and to stand out among that large a number is difficult indeed.

In addition, there are a number of powerful forces arrayed against you. Beyond individuals who have money or power and unwilling to part with it, there are powerful corporations, brutal dictatorships, and corrupt governments. There are economic, social, and cultural pressures that control our lives.

On top of that, the natural world is at work as well. One person, or even a community of people, have little ability to control or influence the weather, for instance. The best you can due in a storm is to try and stay safe and dry and wait until it is over.

With so much beyond our control, why should we try to control it? When an individual human being is buttressed about by other people, by corporations, by nature, by luck, what is the benefit of trying to assert control where there is none?

Tomorrow, we might receive a cancer diagnosis, or be in a car accident, or have a tree fall on our house, or see a federal policy you don’t like enacted, or something else that is beyond us.

How do we soldier on in spite of that? Why bother?

Related questions: When do you need inspiration? Is it a cruel world? What gives you purpose? How do you cheer yourself up?

 

What Are We Responsible For?

This Sunday’s question comes from regular reader Meagan, who asks: What are we responsible for?

One of the most important parts of become an adult is determining, and performing, your responsibilities. Paying your bills, doing your laundry, stocking your refrigerator, and so on.

However, beyond our individual responsibilities are the societal ones. Determining what exactly we, collectively, are responsible for is much more challenging.

In the first place, there is the issue of scope. Are we only responsible for ourselves? Our families? Or zoom out a bit. Do we bear any responsibility for our country, our species, or our ecosystem?

Additionally, there is the problem of impact. Should we consider ourselves responsible for something we have little control over? Do I bear any responsibility for the human race, when I have limited control over the vast majority of it? And how much responsibility do I have over my genetics, over which I have little control?

There is a fine balancing act in place in this regard. It can be easy to take on so much responsibility that it becomes impossible to act. However, feeling some sense of larger responsibility can lead to inspiration, which can lead to positive societal change.

How do you find that balance? When you think about your responsibilities, what are they? Do we have a collective responsibility?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? What makes a community?  How much power does an individual have? What are you doing to make the world a better place? What is the greatest problem facing humanity?

 

When Should You Not Follow The Law?

A system of laws, or rules that we all must follow, is one of the crowning achievements of our society. The law makes civilization possible, so that different people can work together to do more than any individual could manage on their own.

At the same time, there have been, and will continue to be, bad laws that have been enacted. Laws can be unfair, either intentionally or unintentionally. And if there is a bad law, good people cannot be expected to follow it.

Sometimes, even good laws are broken. It is a rare individual indeed who has not jaywalked at least once in their life, but the existence of crosswalks increase public safety. Speeding on the road is common, even though speed limits are in place for a very good reason — they save lives.

But how does someone determine which laws should and should not be followed? The law itself allows our civilization to function, and any sort of mass, consistent breaking of the law by a significant portion of the populace would cause society to break down. Conversely, blindly following unjust laws could also lead to to an unjust society.

As individuals, we have a duty to follow the laws that our peers have agreed upon. However, we also have a duty to stand up to injustice, even if that means breaking the law.

How can we determine which is which? When should you not follow the law? What should the consequences be for someone who breaks an unjust or unfair law? Should we only try and amend unfair laws, or is it important to break them when necessary? When is it necessary?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? When is a lie justified? What do you do that you shouldn’t? Where does authority come from?

How Important Are Important People?

There are people who hold an outsize place in our culture. We tend to mythologize individuals, and celebrate their role, for good or evil.

Why do we do this?

First, we tend to want to put a face to an organization or to a group. For example, Tim Cook is Apple. Pope Francis is the Catholic Church. Lebron James is basketball. A group of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people is difficult to conceptualize. But one name, one face that stands for a movement is something we can comprehend.

We also like to remember important contributions. Albert Einstein’s scientific contributions are such that his name and appearance have become synonymous with science. Mother Theresa was a symbol of kindness and generosity to the whole world.

But whether it is a celebrity, an athlete, or a musician, famous people drive ratings, increase page views, and sell newspapers. So clearly some people are considered, by society, more important than others. More worthy of attention.

What is the alternative?

However, an entire political movement has sprung up to combat this. Talk of income inequality, of the 1% — the richest and most powerful of society — is featured on debate stages and town hall meetings around the country. If wealth and influence are considered “important”, there is an ongoing effort to return some power and voice to those who don’t have it.

While it is worthwhile to appreciate the contributions of individuals, does that also have the effect of minimizing the efforts of others with a lower profile? Steve Jobs was a visionary, sure, but it was the engineers and software programmers of Apple that actually produced the iPod, iPhone, Macintosh computer, and other products. It is the rare individual whose success doesn’t rely on the efforts of dozen, or hundreds of unheralded workers.

Do we, as a society, give too much credit to too few people? Or is fame and fortune fully deserved (and obscurity of others so implied)? How important are important people? Does it matter how important is defined?

Related questions: What is important? Where does authority come from? Who is the most important person in your life? Which historical person would you like to meet?