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?

 

Would You Want To Live Forever?

Like most people, I have a pretty strong survival instinct. But while I don’t want to die, I’m not sure that I want to live forever.

The Case For

Sure, living forever seems pretty attractive at first glance. You won’t, you know, die. Dying is often painful, unexpected, or otherwise unpleasant. If it can be avoided, so much the better.

Moreover, grief is a powerful, and often, devastating emotion. We have all experienced loss, and if you could live forever, you could spare your family and friends going through the grief they would feel at your passing.

Then, you’d never miss out on anything. Whatever amazing discoveries, whatever triumphs, whatever joys that await in the future, you would get to experience. First humans on Mars? Curing cancer? Your great-great-great grandchild getting married? Check, check, check.

The Case Against

All that sounds great, but there are significant downsides.

If you were the only immortal, then you would see everyone you love grow old and die, again and again and again.

But if somehow you could live forever, maybe everyone could. Maybe it is a scientific breakthrough. But in that case, there would be a serious resource problem.

Our planet currently supports more than seven billion people. Even at that number, we are threatening the future of our species and the entire eco-sphere. If none of those seven billion plus died, and babies continued to be born, we’d quickly run out of resources to sustain ourselves.

But maybe we colonize galaxy. We spread out among the stars, and find other planets with other resources. We make better use of the plentiful solar energy throughout the galaxy and the universe. Are there any other drawbacks to immortality?

Things have value to us because of scarcity. The gold standard works because gold is rare. Rainy days make sunny days better. Grief gives added meaning to joy.

If you lived forever, it is possible that life, as we know it, would lose meaning. It is our transitory time on this earth that gives our time here value. Our life matters precisely because we don’t live forever.

Or is that just a justification, designed to make us feel better about our inevitable end?

Would you want to live forever? Or is acceptable that our lives come to an end eventually?

Related questions: Why are people afraid of death? What do you want to do before you die? Past, present, or future? How can we appreciate life more?

What Do You Believe?

Knowing what you believe is an essential part of becoming a fully-realized person. It is also helpful in a number of different ways.

Knowing your beliefs can:
  • Make you more confident

More than anything else, perhaps, your beliefs help define who you are. The more you know your beliefs, the more you know yourself, and the more confident you will be.

  • Keep you from being fooled

If someone tries to provide you with misleading or manipulative information, knowing your own thoughts is crucial. In other words, they can help you navigate difficult waters.

  • Help you make decisions

Companies often have a “mission statement” that provides guidance when there is a decision to be made. Personal beliefs can serve the same purpose. For instance, does an action get you closer to your ultimate goal? Does a decision match your values?

  •  Be a conversation starter

If you find yourself talking to a stranger and you don’t know what to say, falling back on what you believe is a good way to start. Talking about something you believe in will provide a topic to build a discussion around. Similarly, it can also be useful in determining how to respond to a conversation someone else starts.

  • Make fulfilling friendships

If you know what you think and care about, you can surround yourself with people who have beliefs that are similar, or complementary, to your own. Those friendships are likely to resonate more significantly.

  • Help you choose a meaningful career

Similar to finding friendship, the key to a fulfilling career can be an alignment of your own beliefs with a company culture or goals.

Can you think of other ways beliefs are important?

Easier said than done

Of course, talking or thinking about your beliefs is quite different from actually knowing what they are. In attempting to discover what you believe, you may even find that you question things that you have believed for a very long time. That can be very disconcerting.

Do you know what is important to you? What you are passionate about, and what is central to who you are as a person? What do you believe?

Related questions: What beliefs do you have that might be wrong? How can we encourage meaningful conversation? What is important? How do you know who to trust?

What Duty Do We Have To Live Properly?

The key word in this question is clearly the word “properly”. What does it mean to live properly? Who determines what make a proper life?

Each one of us lives the life that we think is best. If we wanted to live our life differently, we would do it! For some, that might mean to live in as much comfort as possible. Others might want to improve the lot of humanity. Some may want to provide for their family.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Besides a desire to live our ideal life, there are always constraints that make that difficult. Maybe you are born in a war-torn country. Or you are not as tall, or as strong, or as attractive, or as smart as you’d like to be. The color of your skin might be a societal disadvantage, or your access to educational opportunities may be lacking.

But even factoring in the hardships or difficulties an individual might face, do we have a responsibility to leave the world a better place than we found it? Or do we only have to look out for ourselves?

Do we have a duty to live properly? And what does the word “properly” mean to you? How should we live our lives in the most responsible way?

Related questions: Is happiness the most important purpose in life? What are our responsibilities to others? What gives you purpose? Individual or society? What do we owe the future?

What Is The Purpose Of Incarceration?

When someone commits a crime and they are convicted, they may be put in prison. What do we hope to achieve through this incarceration?

Incarcerating criminals, particularly violent criminals, might make our society safer. If you remove the dangerous individuals from the general population, so the theory goes, those that remain are the law abiding ones.

(This, by the way, is one of the reasons some people support the death penalty. If the most dangerous criminals are put to death, they will not be able to re-offend, and we are therefore a safer society.)

A second possibility is one of reformation. If someone who has committed a crime is isolated until they experience and show remorse, that person can be rehabilitated. They can then be reintroduced to society.

Yet another is putative. If someone has wronged us individually or as a society, that person needs to be punished. That punishment can take on different forms: removal from society at large; kept in confining or restricting quarters; forced labor; removal from any human contact; etc.

Incarceration can also be seen as a potential deterrent to others. If you break the law, this will happen to you. So you’d better not break the law!

There may be other possible reasons as well. Each one of these has merits and flaws. However, to answer this question we need to answer a different question first: what are we trying to achieve? What is the outcome we want, and what is the best way to get that outcome? Do we want punishment? Do we want rehabilitation?

In other words, what is the purpose of incarceration?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? What would happen if all drugs were made legal? Freedom or security? Can people change? When should you not follow the law?