In our culture of minute-to-minute inter-connectedness, we have come to expect ourselves and others to disclose (share one’s thoughts/experiences) AND respond (perceive and comment on the thoughts/experiences of others). Somehow we have come to regard “full engagement” as being part of a running (and oftentimes meaningless) commentary on things that 1) we don’t really understand OR 2) don’t have any bearing on the living of a fully actualized life.
When was the last time you asked yourself, excluding our present cultural obligation to share and/or comment, “What really matters?”
This existential question, which religions and philosophies have struggled with for as long as they have been around, is universally posed. Despite its ubiquity, only a scant few will spend an entire lifetime trying to answer that universal (and frightening) question.
While you can intellectually step back and regard the question from a place of critical analysis, give yourself a second to simply feel that question. How does it feel, deep inside your fragile human form, to feel what really matters?
The intellectual approach is pervasive; the feeling approach is frightening.
Because many of us, were we to honestly look at who we are vis a vis “what really matters” would fall short of our own aspirations.
Most of would answer the universal question with this: “Family really matters.” (“Family” is the “what” in the “really matters” question.) If this was your answer, how does that look objectively? Would a fly on the wall look at your life and conclude: “For that human, family really matters”?
Now refocus the lens and take a subjective look. Internally, do you frighten yourself? At your core, does your “family really matters” axiom feel as meaningful a the words sound intellectually?
As a parent to four children, I take only intermittent and small comfort in knowing that there are occasional days when that judgmental fly applauds my parenting. Without a doubt, we have all had those “good” parenting day which felt engaged, rewarding, connected, and full of wonder. So what would it take to get that judgmental fly to applaud more frequently, more loudly? Shouldn’t my claim of what matters drive my behavior? Ought not my life’s work be how to string together “good” parenting days if I have settled on the axiom of “what really matters is family.”
(Side note: This claim, by the plain meaning of the word “family,” extends to your spouse, your parents, your siblings, their children, etc. If none of those people came to mind when you made the “family” claim, then it is more accurate to, instead, claim “my children really matter.”)
Humans are not simply thinking subjects. Every one of us is a subject whose life is measured by our actions, feelings, and how we choose to live, with the true apex of human existence founded upon the virtue of authenticity. Authenticity stems from our choices, not predetermined by our genes or divine orchestration. As thinking and feeling individuals, we are each cursed with a recurring sense of disorientation in the face of an apparently meaningless and/or absurd world.
This is why time travel (back to the olden days/into the future) is so appealing. Ever wonder who you might be and what you would cherish were you to have been born in another place and time? We take these hypothetical journeys every time we escape into historical fiction or science fiction, which are the opposite sides of the same what-if-life-were-completely-different coin. We can escape the reality of the current absurdities of life by changing the scenery. As a member of a species with the capacity to imagine, why wouldn’t I take comfort in the escape?
Although a necessary distraction to life, reality forces us out of the darkness of a movie theater and the safety in the pages of books. Confronting one’s own thoughts and judging one’s own behavior in the present reality is monumentally challenging.
What really matters?
This question demands that you first ask yourself “Who am I?” and then “Why do I matter?” This self-reflective and highly personal inquiry is the basis for feeling frightened, as there may be some who have no affirmative way to make a case. But each and every one of us, even with the inability to be self-endorsing, do matter, if only to others, if not readily to ourselves.
It’s easier to say, “I love you,” than it is to say, “I love myself.” What if your own self-love was the singular essential component to being able to love someone outside of yourself? What if you began to live your life with your love of self as your foundation? What if loving others required you to believe in and have appreciation for your uniqueness?
When that universal question of “what do you want for your children” is asked, many people say they want their children to “be happy.” While happiness is important, I would argue only penultimately so. Self-love, not to be confused with conceit or haughtiness, is what I want for my children. I want them to be so comfortable in their own selves that they are able to live in the present (absurd) world with the capacity to imagine how to integrate and appreciate their here and now. Although their occasional escapes into the olden days (Little House on Prairie), the future (Star Wars), or even the magical (Harry Potter) will be a component of their individual (escapist/self-preserving) lives, I want them to be wholly rooted in their present reality, standing tall as themselves with the confidence found only in self-love.