In the broad view of humanity, it really has been very painful this year. From Syrian refugees, Brexit, North Korea’s advancement in nuclear weaponry, Zika virus, various nightclub attacks and shootings and school shootings, multiple planes being shot down or crashing, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Wilder, Muhammed Ali, Harper Lee, Jo Cox MP, Johan Cryuff, Richard Adams, Leonard Cohen, George Michael and Prince all passing away, failed attempt of a coup in Turkey which has lead to a paranoid leader, police shootings and protests, FA child abuse scandal and Donald Trump somehow getting elected President not to mention a whole host of others. It’s been bleak.
There have been undeniably good stories to come out of the year, but to me it seems like most of these victories are of very small weight in comparison with the above list with a couple of exceptions (the development of a new 100% effective Ebola vaccine for example). These are all global (or at least national) scale events so for now I’m going to digress to a more personal level.
I can’t deny that objectively it has been a pretty good year for me and I find myself living in Switzerland, currently holidaying in Amsterdam, managed to get out of my student overdraft and now enjoying my twenties. I have had the pleasure of seeing myself and the people around me grow and learn by getting new jobs, graduating university, passing driving tests and making a living for themselves in a place far away from home. From the outside it must look like I’m living a dream but the truth is not quite as pretty. In recent years I’ve struggled with certain aspects of my own mental health and that has continued into 2016, no doubt to continue into 2017 (not pessimistic, just realistic). I’m reluctant to put a label on it because I haven’t sought professional help yet and I don’t want to self-diagnose. (Whilst I’m on the topic, just getting up and travelling to another country does not magically solve your mental health issues like certain Facebook pictures would have you believe. Just sayin’).
Normally towards the end of a spiral though comes the existential questions and I’d like to address one in particular. What is the meaning of life? (Just stick with me here).
I can’t help but think that people ask this question in the hope for an answer where they can say “Oh there it is. I found the meaning of life. I was looking for that.”
This is a question that is one of the great open ended questions of life, open to philosophical debate all over the world. However, for such an open ended and interpretive question, it leaves out the possibility that meaning in life is something that you yourselves create.
So when I address this in my own head I like to ask myself have I made someone feel good about themselves today (myself included) and have I also learned something today that I didn’t know yesterday? This brings me a little closer to what you could call my ultimate goal which is tattooed on my right forearm*. If I haven’t done either of those things during a day in my life, I realise that I wasted that day.
To learn is to become closer to our own human nature. To learn how things work, whether they are political, technological, emotional, physical, scientific or otherwise, gives you power to influence moments and events. This gives you power to help those who may need it. So when I think about the meaning of life, that is no longer an eternal and unanswerable question of our existence. Instead, it’s a simple matter of a little effort everyday.
In closing, I’d like to come back to my first paragraph and address these issues with one uniform message. In my learning, I’ve grown fond of learning about space and the stars. One of the most spiritual experiences of my life was finding out that we as humans are the remnants of multiple stars that exploded and died, scattering their guts across the expanses of space. All of which are required for life to occur. The atoms in our bodies are traceable to the crucibles of stars, and once we’ve had our time on Earth, our bodies will lose atoms every day that passes after our deaths and those atoms will eventually end up among the stars once again. This is a great circular existence that the universe has granted us. I submit that if every major decision maker in the world realised this and thought about this more often, I’d like to think that they would see that we are capable of so much good if we have the will to act. As for the deaths of all those beloved people and a multitude of others I haven’t got the space to mention, at night you can go outside and look up. They’re there.
*My tattoo that reminds me of my goal says “Be ashamed to die until you have scored a victory for humanity”. A quote attributed to Horace Mann who was the first President of Antioch College. A quote he lived up to by granting places to African American students in 1850’s and being the first college to grant a female professor equal pay and rank. The quote came from his final commencement speech and is now the college motto.
(Photo Credit: <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/” title=”Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0″>CC BY-SA 3.0</a>, <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17088927″>Link</a>)