Thursday, May 19, 2011

Live by "The Meter": a tool for living the meaningful life, the life well-led

A couple of days ago, I posted a stream-of-consciousness talk on what you should know about higher education that the universities won't tell you.

A viewer of that video, Justin Wehr, posted a comment asking if I might do and post more unscripted talks, and he suggested some topics, one of which was The Meaning of Life. So, here it is:


Justin Wehr said...

Thanks, Marty. As usual, I am impressed by the clarity of your arguments. Here are some reactions/challenges I’d pose:

Is it the *pursuit* of contribution, or is it the *achievement* of contribution that matters?

How do we decide _whom_ to help? Is improving my son or daughter’s life equal to improving someone other kid’s life? In other words, is every person equally valuable? Or maybe would you say that the value of a person is in how much they contribute to the world? Or maybe is it their *potential* to contribute?

What about non-humans? How do we weigh the value of a human vs. an elephant vs. a mosquito? And what about non-life (e.g., the Earth)?

Is it possible that what you are looking for is a deeper sense of rational satisfaction with how you have lived your life, and that you see contribution as the way toward that aim, but that for other people, there could be equally justifiable alternative approaches?

How do you respond to the criticism that, from a 100,000 mile view, everything we do, everything we create, the sum total of our lives, is comically flimsy?

Marty Nemko said...

Justin, here are my responses:

Your life's value is in what you accomplish, not what you pursue. I could spend the rest of my life trying to cure cancer but because I don't have the necessary skills to have any realistic chance even of eliminating blind alleys, that to focus my efforts on that rather than on, for example, trying to get a College Report Card mandated--where I do have the skill set, connections, and therefore some chance of making a difference--would be foolish and I would not have lived the life well-led.

I do not believe that all lives are equal. While, indeed, an hour of your time tutoring your biological child, an adopted child, or a stranger, would score equally on The Meter, there's no question that helping a human is more valuable than helping an elephant let alone a mosquito, if only because degree of sentience affects how likely the recipient of your efforts is to, in turn, conduct activities that will score high on The Meter.

Yes, from the 100,000 mile view, the lives of very few of us have major significance, but we can only make the most of what significance we potentially could have. For me, it's unarguable that the life of the cancer researcher and even of the tutor is infinitely more worthy than that of the crack dealer.


blogger templates | Make Money Online