Is my existence a Bother?
Quora Question: Why do i feel like life doesn't really need me and my existence is a bother to everyone?
The Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl once wrote: “I remember my dilemma in a concentration camp when faced with a man and a woman who were close to suicide; both had told me that they had expected nothing more in life. I asked both my fellow prisoners whether the question was really what we expected from life. Was it not, what life was expecting from us.”
According to Frankl “We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering" and that "everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
So, begin with the idea that life is expecting something from you. Your existence is not a bother but rather is important. What is life expecting from you? There is something you can do and that you offer to the world that only you can give. Your experience, your love, your actions. What can you create, what can you experience, how can you face suffering? These are the sources of meaning. And, they matter.
The biologist Richard Dawkins has an interesting perspective on this which might help: “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly, those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds, it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”
What I mean by sharing that quote with you is that we should all regard our life here as a wonderful opportunity. Out of all of the possible people, you are alive. Don’t waste that opportunity. The Dalai Lama makes a similar point that we should use our fortunate birth as human beings to further our ability to gain enlightenment.
Because this life is the only one we have there is all the more reason to make the most of it. Perhaps you can begin with a simple exercise I encourage my philosophy students to do. Ask yourself these four questions:
What do you want to learn?
What do you want to experience?
What do you want to contribute?
What do you want to leave behind?
Your life can have meaning and purpose and be richly rewarding; to yourself and those you help, love, and befriend.
Are you thirsty enough?
Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay
In Seth Godin’s book What to do when it’s your turn (and it’s always your turn) he has a section titled “The Secret of Teaching (and the secret of learning) where he makes a useful point:
“I’ve taught all my life. And I’ve discovered that there’s only one thing that separates successful students from unsuccessful ones.
The good ones show up and say, “teach me.”
They look at failure and confusion as temporary conditions and say, “that didn’t work, show me another way.”
They are thirsty.
The other students have their arms crossed. They want to know if it’s on the test. They are restless. They need to be sold before they can be taught.
And that’s most of what happens in organized education. If you can’t sell it, people don’t learn it. When frustration (the twin sister of learning) shows up, most people stop trying.
Not thirsty enough."
Students need to hear messages like this from time to time. I know it sounds harsh but the days are long gone when just showing up to school and work led to success. That's not enough. Learning is an activity and it needs this thirst to drive it. I'm often amazed by how my students allow me to confuse them without stopping me. Of course, I don't mean to confuse them but it's clear they are confused. And, they aren't thirsty enough to say "that didn't work, show me another way."
What will happen when they graduate from school and are put in situations where they are confused about what to do? Will they remain just as silent and passive?
I think that often students look around and don't see any other students thirsty enough to learn and so conclude that they are just fine doing nothing. But, someone, somewhere is thirsty and acting on that. Someone somewhere is doing what I call thinking like a philosopher: asking more questions, demanding better answers, learning more than they think they need to know.
In other words, they are thirsty enough. Are you?
You've been given an assignment in a class you're taking. It could be a paper, a presentation, a research project. The question is what are you going to do with it?
Are you going to try to make it something interesting for yourself? Are you going to try to learn something? Or are you going to do just enough to pass? Just the minimum, no more.
It's only a history paper. It's only a speech in public speaking. It's only an assignment.
But, it could be an opportunity to do something remarkable. It could be an opportunity to learn something, even do something worth your time and effort.
It's your choice.
Doing What Most Won't
What does it take to succeed? I'm challenging my students to think about that question this semester. Often, success comes about because someone was willing to do what others weren't willing to do.
Most students won't ask questions. Successful ones will.
Most students won't work ahead of schedule when given the chance. Successful ones will.
Most students won't establish professional connections with professors on LinkedIn and other venues. Successful students will.
Most students won't learn more than is required.
Most students won't talk in class.
Most won't put in a little extra effort.
What about you?
Are you waiting? If so, why?
Are you waiting for the teacher to give you an assignment?
Waiting for the professor to give you instruction?
Waiting for your supervisor to give you directions?
Waiting for your customer to ask for something?
Waiting for your leaders to fix your problems.
We do a lot of waiting for others to act. Why?
Why are you waiting? Take the initiative. Take action.
Step outside your comfort zone
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay
Everyone has their comfort zone. It feels safe. No risks are involved. You know your territory.
But, it's dangerous there when you're too comfortable. You're too isolated and you risk missing out on good and useful ideas.
It's an interesting irony that some of the people most prone to stay in their comfort zone are educators. It may be their job to push others out of their comfort zone, but educators often don't stray from their comfort zone.
The world is filled with interesting people and big ideas. Some of these could be very useful to you though they are not directly related to your field. You'll never know if you don't step outside your zone and explore.
Are you in the health care industry? Learn about engineering, design thinking, philosophy.
Are you an educator? Learn about health care, marketing, construction.
Are you a student? Learn about everything you can.
Start with the assumption that every subject has something to teach you. Start with the assumption that every subject is related to what you're interested in.
Now, go and find how they are related.
The power of small steps
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
We’ve all heard the quote that a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step. The secret is to keep making steps consistently. Progress in life consists in continuing to make these small steps again and again and again. Those who have difficulty making progress often only see each small step by itself and fail to keep in mind the cumulative effect of all the small steps taken together.
KEVIN J. BROWNE
Philosopher / Educator
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2022 Reading Challenge
Kevin has read 12 books toward his goal of 63 books.