What’s it all about?
Recent events have had me thinking about the utter meaninglessness of most of our lives.
That may seem a little harsh, but in the face of world hunger, aids, local community murders and unexpected vehicle accidents, the average city dweller’s life seems brutally short, stressed, joyless and insignificant.
I keep asking why? Why do we accept an existence that starts with a caffeine shot, moves onto an hour or two in the traffic, followed by 10 hours of sitting in open plan offices pushing paper around, hidden from the sun, and ending with another two hours in the traffic, a TV dinner, and few hours of restless sleep before it all begins again? Who has convinced us that we need to earn as much money as possible at the cost of family and friends and dreams and health? Why have we accepted, without question, that this system is the only valid option for a life of happiness when it is entirely evident that we are not happy at all?
Sure, we have moments of happiness here and there, and convince ourselves that those moments are what we work so hard for… but I’m not convinced. How many people breaking their backs, working overtime and bringing work home can say that their lives are better for it? When you’ve given up on your dreams, family, friends, hobbies and health, what is life worth? That of course leads us to the question of, “What is the value of life?” or, “what’s it all about?” – An ancient and frustrating question indeed.
As a naturalist who doesn’t believe in any sort of afterlife or spirit world, I do not entertain comforting thoughts of a “better place” to take the edge of our present sufferings. This is it. We only have one go at this. We have to create meaning out of the lottery we were born into or alternatively accept our ultimate fate and get it over and done quickly. I choose the former. Why? Because the joys I have been privileged to experience have been incredible, wonderful, glorious, and I want to have them again, and again, and again.
When I find happiness in this life I am often amazed by how little (cash) it costs. We have been conditioned to accept a system of acquisition and wealth creation and ambition, and yet some of the happiest moments of my life cost me nothing.
I think back to my childhood running free on the streets of Durban. My father had died and my mother had nothing. There were days we lived on toast or Pro-Nutro and yet I was happy. I had no Lego, no Xbox, no cool clothes, and yet I had a gang of friends with whom I spent hours building tree houses and discovering the city with wonder and excitement. We created amazing toys out of scrap wire and other bits and bobs. I learned how to play chess, look after people less fortunate (there’s always someone less fortunate), and create paper Mache superhero masks with which I attempted to help a few willing (but more often flabbergasted) old ladies to cross streets they may or may not have needed to cross.
Most of my life I have managed to escape (or surf) what I call “the tide”. The unstoppable force of societal expectation created through an intricate mix of education, media, religion and hearsay which ultimately creates a definition of what is a “normal”, “good”, “desirable” and “acceptable” life. The tide is so strong it sweeps away even the most determined individualist and results in a population of greedy zombies, all the same, all with lifeless limbs outstretched and crying out for more, all moving in the same direction… all the living dead. When the tide of zombies encounters a living soul in their path they simply devour all the good bits, leaving the remaining deformed corpse to join their ranks in a sort of unholy march toward an unknown destination.
I once met a man who, with his wife and daughter, travelled the world on a bike and side car. He had travelled through Asia for years and was now passing through Africa. They “home” schooled their daughter on the road and stopped for a few weeks in each town where they camped at the local caravan park before moving on. He did odd jobs wherever they stopped to keep them going. He was happy. I remember trying to convince him to settle down. I remember the church trying to make him feel guilty about “dragging” his wife and daughter around the world, and about “not being accountable” to a church or a system. They were immune to the system. They smiled and waved and moved on. They were happy.
If I were to write a list of the 10 happiest moments of my life they would include the births of my kids; some amazing moments of intimacy with friends and lovers; winning certain games of chess or Warhammer; losing certain games of chess or Warhammer; many wonderful moments on the porch with my dogs and lady; special times chilling and camping with my kids; some amazing discussions with friends at Rumble events; meeting new friends at parties and occasions; reading some incredible books; listening at full volume to some incredible music; beating up Horde players on World of Warcraft…
When I start giving up these things to become more zombie-like, I lose the real reason to live. No corporate promotion, car, fancy house, retirement plan or latest gadget upgrade could possibly give my life more meaning or satisfaction than what I can get if I just focus my attention on the stuff that really matters.
Now to go grab a cup of coffee and get those papers pushed!