The Question is not “Why are we here?” but ” How should we live our lives?” All of our technological advances have not changed that essentially difficult question. The Greeks of the fifth century B.C. are our contemporaries; we are no wiser than they were. Remember Harry Truman’s response when asked why he was reading Plutarch’s Lives? Said the President: To find out what’s going on in Washington.
~~philosopher Mortimer Adler. (from Life Magazine, December 1988. Article entitled “The Meaning of Life.”
I can’t imagine trying to figure out what’s going on in Washington, when it’s such a big job just trying to understand what’s going on in my own life. I’ve been asking that question for as long as I can remember “How should I live my life?”
The answer seemed pretty clear early on. Read the Bible, do what you’re told, and have faith. I was told to tell the truth, be kind, and fair. That’s what I learned in Sunday school and what my Mother taught me. I spent at least half of my life thinking that everyone else was taught the same things and trying to understand why there was so much turmoil in the world when it was so simple and clear-cut how we were supposed to be – how we were supposed to live. Then, after leaving the sheltered world of the small community where I lived until I was 8 years old, I learned that some people are mean to each other and don’t tell the truth. Sticking to the teachings I grew up with, I reasoned: if you’re good, everyone will like you. And if they like you they won’t be mean to you. But still, no matter how good I was, there were some people who were mean to me and that meant they didn’t like me. And I couldn’t be happy until they did.
So I read more books. The first one I remember was “How to be Popular.” The answers set forth in the book were pretty much the same that I’d been taught all along: Be nice to people. Listen to them. Talk to people. Be friendly. I did everything the book said and there were still some people who did not like me.
And so it went for most of my life – wanting to be liked – not just by some, but by everyone, reading more books, trying my best to please people. And the big question kept getting bigger: What is the purpose of Life?
It seemed that people liked me when I drew pictures for them. I copied their school pictures on notebook paper. I drew fancy dresses for their paper dolls. I drew flowers and pretty scenes. And I got lots of attention. And thus I learned that when I wanted attention, (which signified to me that people liked me) I drew pictures. Was this my purpose in life? Is this how I should live my life? Making pretty pictures for people so they would like me?
This is a pencil drawing on notebook paper of my brother Jim. I copied it from his school picture in 1957.