‘I just want to feel meaningful,’ he said. We walked along the shore ‘What is meaningful?’ I replied.’
We continued our walk; the question remained unanswered. My thoughts Ping-Ponging between possible answers. In the days to come, I heard the same question, yet from different people; the same lack of clear answers, of different wondering souls.
Yet, there is no simple answer. In the search of The meaning of life, we might end up without The answer. As a journalist in the endless search of The truth, I ended up more often with an infinity of truths. The more people involved, the more perspectives and perceptions of the so-called truth. Eventually, the truth is a kaleidoscope rather than a clear marked dot.
The same goes for the meaning of life. Depending on which time one lives in, which country and culture one lives in, depending on the position within that country and time; depending on which role of yourself you look at, depending on the moment of your life, depending on who you ask and about who’s life; depending on so much variables, perspectives and perceptions, you will find another meaning.
The meaning of life, the meaning of your existence, what is meaningful to you; it all depends on a variety of variables, which change over time. What is meaningful at one moment, might become meaningless at another; what is meaningful to someone might be meaningless to someone else.
The Single Quest for an Absolute Meaning ends up in a Kaleidoscopic View of it.
The Infinite Quest
Yet, we keep on looking for the real meaning of life. We keep on being wondering souls, looking for the answer to the infinite quest. As a child, I thought it will become all clear when becoming adult. Since I’m adult, I realised the book of meaning never will be just unveiled to you. It is a book you write yourself, chapter after chapter, word by word; filled and enriched over time and experience.
There is no such a moment in which you become a grown-up, and life has unveiled its mysteries and meaning. There is no moment of the truth. Rather, life is a sequence of meaningful moments; a sequence of experiences and insights; a sequence of wondering and wandering; a sequence of getting lost and seeing the light, regardless how little and short that light might shine.
Rather than Arriving at One Moment of Meaning, we have to follow the Sequence of Meaningful Events.
The Finite Answer
Still, throughout history many people and institutions have tried to give a finite answer to our infinite quest. There were the stories told from generation to generation, the stories that gave meaning to the elements and events of nature, and of life. There were the stories told from religious leader to religious follower, written down in enormous books, stories that would give meaning to life as it was, as it is, and as it will be.
Through the creation of political entities such as nations, the meaning of individuals became partly embedded in the meaning of that entity. People gained meaning through their role as good citizens, their duties and tasks they fulfilled for the nation, or the positioned they took into it. Different classes, different meanings. Different time of history, different meaning. When going to war, a soldier would serve his country, not his personal interest. If he would die, it wouldn’t be meaningless violence, it would be meaningful for the country he was serving.
The lives of humans gained meaning as part of the bigger whole; as the role they played in the universe created by gods of spirits, gods of nature, gods of politics and of economics. In many countries and cultures, this is still the primary meaning of life. Important decisions, tasks to be fulfilled, choices that have to be made; they all are explained by the role they play in the bigger story they make part of.
The Story you Make Part of Gives Meaning to even Meaningless Events.
Yet, in our globalised and pluralised world, meaning isn’t as straight-forwarded anymore. The freedoms we gained, came at a price.
We gained freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression. We gained freedom to move between countries, within countries, between classes, between professions, between religions, between cultures.
Those freedoms unlocked the freedom of meaning. Whole at a sudden, the straight-forwarded story you were part of, that gave you meaning, turned out to be but one storyline on the entire timeline of your existence. The meaningful dot you were looking up to, turns out to be the starting point of a rainbow of meanings.
Some storylines are provided by your physical position in the world, the country you are born in, the country you live in, the countries you lived in or travelled through. Some storylines are provided by your spiritual position in the world, the cultures, religions, and life views you know and have been part of, or are part of. Some storylines are provided by your position in your life; the relationships, the experiences, and the insights you have, had, or will have.
If only one
Back to the shoreline, the walk with no answer. I once met a teacher who taught for decades at the same school; the kind of school where the drop-out was gigantic. Yet, every day he was motivated to teach. He knew people questioned the meaning of his teaching. If his students were high-likely to drop-out of school before the end of their degree, and probably even before the end of the year, then what would be the meaning of him as a teacher?
‘If only one,’ he explained his motivation, ‘If only one student would pick up one interesting fact of my classes. If only one student would be motivated by even one lesson I had given. If only one student would look back one day and think of one thing that inspired or motivated him of my classes,’ he continued, his eyes watery of hope or despair, ‘that would be the proof it was meaningful. That one student is worth it, that one moment. It all makes sense because of the one.’
He did a meaningful job, because even without ever having taken his classes, I remember his lesson every single day. ‘If only one’ is a good beginning to give meaning. We often look for the bigger meaning of life, while the true meaning is right in front of us.
It is the one person you can make smile; it is the one person you can reach a hand; it is the one person you write an article for; it is the one person you can comfort in scary times. It is the one deed that makes the world a better place; it is the one talk that makes the world a enlightener place; it is the one move that makes the world going around. For some of us, that one movement evolves into the creation of a futuristic global transportation system; while for others it grows into inner peace of mind. But all starts with one.
Like every story, and every quest, the first word, and the first step, are the beginning of the destination. One word, one step of meaning.
In times of Corona, when various external distractions and stories are taken away, and the world is shaken; meaning might look lost, and the quest has started again. We wonder how to be meaningful in these changed times. Yet, we carry the answer within us.
We all carry meaning in us, you just have to tell yourself the right story, change perspectives, but don’t lose sight of yourself; change the storyline, but don’t lose track of your timeline.
We all carry meaning in us, and it starts with one.
This article is part of the series of Hope in Times of Corona. Read
- how this times of self-isolation should not mean loneliness,
- how you can contribute to this battle,
- how gratitude lights up the dark,
- how united we will stand strong
- on the most util strategy in awake of a crisis
- how I got blown of my feet as well, but caught by many caring hands,
- how being calm can get us through the storm.
- about Love in Times of Corona
- how to discover your own talents
- why we need stories to hold on to
- how you can be creative and innovative.
- how to spend your mot valuable assets in times of Corona.
- how to listen to the sound of silence.
- How breate taking Corona really is.
- discover the other freedoms Corona has shown us,
- about the new-born freedom Corona gave us.
- about another way to exceed your personal bubble.
- about the position of nature in this entire story
- about nature bouncing back
- about the crucial choice between resilience and resistance
- about the game to play
- about star gazing in dark times
Or wait until tomorrow, when I’ll shine another light on yet another positive corner of this dark times.