Essay 10: Our Common Purpose
Some religions claim that each individual has a unique purpose. God, they say, has put each of us here for a reason that is ours and ours alone. Perhaps, but the clues we have uncovered over the past nine essays say otherwise. Collectively, they imply that there is a universal purpose to human life. A common purpose is precisely what is required for a world that provides the opportunity for us to live in peace and harmony.
Let’s review the clues we have collected over the past nine essays. Here they are:
–Time is nothing like we have imagined it to be. The past, present, and future coexist side by side. Every moment of time is active forever.
–Our world is probabilistic. There are no absolutes. Everything is possible.
–We live in what is likely one of a near-infinite number of universes. Everything could be different.
–Each of us faces the same ups and downs as those who came before us. It’s not enough to read about the hurdles and challenges of life. Personal experience is mandatory.
–We are the wisest at an advanced age when it seemingly has the least value.
–It is the interaction of our choices and decisions with those of the billions of others on the planet that creates reality.
–Entropy, the fundamental law of nature that pushes everything towards more disorder, is constantly working against us. We have the power to reverse entropy.
–Death. The fact that it is unavoidable for even the most elite is the greatest clue of all.
What conclusions can we draw from these clues? First, they make clear that fame, wealth, and power cannot possibly be the goals of life. Death takes care of those possibilities. Then there are these additional facts:
1) Each of us is required to play out our role. It is not enough to read about the trials and tribulations of those who preceded us.
2) We continually attain knowledge through our individual experiences. The acquisition of knowledge never ceases.
3) Through our choices and decisions, everyone participates in the creation of reality.
The evidence points to a lifetime requirement to learn and gain wisdom through experience. If longevity were the goal of life, we would anticipate a different set of circumstances. In that scenario, humans should be blessed with wisdom when we are young when it provides the most bang for the buck.
Our clues also confirm that every life counts and every life matters. The proof of that statement lies in the fact that we all participate equally in the creation of reality. Do not be misled to believe that the more powerful have a greater effect on the world than the powerless. While it certainly seems that they do, this erroneously assumes that there is a preferred outcome to the unfolding of history. There is not. All possible outcomes are equivalent to the universe, no matter how unpalatable some might be to us. It is impossible to predict the long-term consequence of any single choice or decision no matter from whom it arises. It is the summation of all choices and decisions that creates reality.
Our ability to reverse entropy, to bring order to disorder, informs us that we have control over how we live our lives. If we put in the effort, there is no natural limit to how much we can improve our world, ourselves, and the lives of others. We should not underestimate the significance of this power. We could be living in a world where we had no such control.
In order to become a physician, I first attended four years of college. Next came four years of medical school, followed by another five years of post-medical school training. Thirteen years after finishing high school I was finally ready to take care of patients. Can you imagine if, after all of those years and all of that effort, I was handed a thank-you note and a guaranteed income without having to do a stitch of work, without having to put to use all that I had learned? Apply that analogy to human life. Each of us spends decades experiencing, learning, and growing. Do we really believe that we go through all of that for nothing?
Life is preparation. Why else would life be do-it-yourself with its unavoidable obstacles and challenges? Why else would we start life ignorant and helpless only to gain knowledge and wisdom along the way, right up to the very end?
All of our required experiential learning leads to the conclusion that another role awaits us. Just as my medical education was all about preparing to assist others, it appears that our life education is meant to do the same. Our experiences, and especially our relationships, mold us, educate us, and guide us towards that end.
Our common purpose is to prepare for that next role. It will require the transition from thinking primarily about our own needs to those of others. Leaders we remember and admire–Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King–each underwent a transformation from an inward, self-directed focus to an outward, other-directed focus. Their lives became dedicated to something larger than themselves. None was born with the knowledge that they were chosen. They all were quite human, with flaws and weaknesses, just as each of us. Events of their time drew them in, and then something happened. A transformation occurred. No longer were their lives about them. The camera flipped from a selfie to a focus on those they became committed to assisting. They had arrived at wisdom.
It takes living a life, with all its ups and downs and its many relationships, to acquire that wisdom. It cannot be obtained any other way. It is why every generation starts from ground zero and history is perpetually repeated. There are no shortcuts–personal experience is required. Our goal, just like those impressive leaders listed above, is to achieve the wisdom that will be required in our next role. It is why we are here.
Still, our world pulls us in other directions. It does seem that we are constantly competing for something, always attempting to get our piece of the pie. Like time and certainty, this idea of constant required competition is a stubborn illusion. In a world where our common purpose is acknowledged, where we understand that we share the same mission–to advance from selfish to selfless, from ignorant to wise, from inward-focused to outward-focused–division evaporates. The role of competition changes from a constant fight to the death to a means to hone the talents and skills that we will need to maximize our utility to others.
Many will be comforted to confirm that we share a common purpose and that it involves the best aspects of humanity. Others might roll their eyes. “C’mon, really, we are preparing for something else? You expect me to believe that? Sounds like religion.” I remind you that no minister, priest, rabbi, or iman has weighed in over the course of these essays. You haven’t read any quotes from religious texts. We discovered these clues outside a church or synagogue or mosque.
We have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that in many ways our world is not what we have assumed. That is why we spent so much time discussing the nature of time and the utterly strange world of quantum physics. The truths we learned about both of those topics shattered previously held beliefs. Uncovering our common purpose does the same to our understanding of human life. It is our ticket out of contentiousness. It is the blueprint for a society based on kindness, generosity, personal responsibility, and love. It is the explanation for why violence is not only unnecessary but an obstacle to our individual success.
Many of us have experienced times when we find ourselves unusually quiet and at peace. During those moments, a sense arises from within that we are here for a reason, that we are preparing for something, that there is more to life than our daily lives would lead us to suspect. I hesitated to include that as a clue. It is more than that. It is confirmation.
When I began this journey in search of clues that might reveal life’s purpose, I had no idea those clues would bring me to the conclusion I have just shared. Every day I spend some time reviewing much of what we have discussed in these essays. After every reflection and reevaluation of the clues, I end up in the same place. Each of you will make your own assessment, as you should. Once you understand that our world is quite different than you had assumed, ideas that might have seemed bizarre and difficult to accept enter the realm of the possible. For me, and I hope for you, that is reason for limitless optimism.
In the next series of essays, we turn our attention to how we can accelerate our journey towards wisdom and selflessness. We will examine myriad issues through the lens of our common purpose. Most everything is likely to look a bit different.
Next: Essay 11: Choices
When: May 25, 2022