“When we ask what man wants out of life, we deal with his very essence.”
Everyone, no matter their station in life, asks questions. It is how human beings make requests and have our needs and demands fulfilled. It is how we discover knowledge about ourselves, other people, and things around us. It is how we satisfy our curiosity about the universe. An individual who does not ask any questions at all is probably very intimidated by people or very averse to learning and discovery. Neither is healthy.
At some point in life, anyone will have to ask, Why am I alive? Why am here? These are questions mankind has asked for millennia, to which countless people from all walks of life claim to have answers. One can find thousands of literature, some recent, and some as old as the first human civilisation, concerning the subject matter of life’s purposes and how to fulfil them. Kings, emperors, men of state, tyrants, courtiers, warriors, priests, prophets, philosophers, poets, mathematicians, artists, musicians, craftsmen – everyone seems to have their own ideas about how life should be lived if one is to attain peace, health, happiness, love, and power, among other aspirations of man. Yet, it seems only a privileged few discover answers that the entire human race yearns to know. The rest of us, in spite of our best efforts, might as well be grasping at straw like drowning men and women in the daily concerns of our mundane lives.
There are many theories that the common man, who is most likely frustrated at life, can come up with when he considers people who smoothly glide through life. Such individuals seem able to weather every catastrophe, surmount every challenge, succeed at every endeavour, and come out unscathed, while obtaining wealth, love, and happiness that the average person can only dream about. The most common reason, or rather excuse, are that perhaps such individuals inherited their fortunes, and are living off the legacy of quite successful ancestors. They don’t have to struggle daily in order to find bread, and clothe and protect themselves from the sun and rain, he might say, Everything has been handed to them; they’re free to do anything they want! But this is true only about some individuals. Of course, in any society, there are those who, at the moment of birth, are handed the proverbial silver spoon; whereas there are others who made do with little, or have had to claw their way out of the gutter. Still, there are those who do nothing; they accept their circumstances as it is, that nothing can be done about them, and so remain unhappy and agitated all their lives.
Another excuse the common man might raise is that the social structure of his generation poses a formidable hindrance to his progress, thwarting all his efforts to obtain some semblance of meaning to his existence. Perhaps he is uneducated and unskilled, and he blames his folks for not putting him through formal education, or the state for not providing enough jobs. Perhaps the state requires him to pay ridiculous taxes from his already meagre salary, or his ex-wife demands child support, but without so much as a weekend to spend with his adorable daughter (who is probably developing a number of psychological issues due to living in a home without her father). Perhaps he was let go from his job due to a recent injury, his old age, or the arrival of a new boss or a more qualified grunt, and neither the state nor his friends care how he should feed himself or his family. He is as helpless as he is bitter.
Of course, there is also the case where a man or woman blessed with luxury, showered with love, and who would never know the meaning of hunger or homelessness, decides to squander it all, much like the popular parable of the prodigal son in the Bible. It is not uncommon to encounter people in history and in our daily lives who had it all and lost it all.
This begs the questions, What is the difference between those who escape the gutter and those who remain in it? What causes those born with talent to squander their potential? Why do some people exploit opportunity and others seem almost blind to it? What compels one man to throw away his life, and yet another man fights like hell for life he never had?
Perhaps it is destiny. Perhaps each person has a fate that cannot be changed or controlled. Perhaps that fate can be changed. Or maybe there is no such thing as fate at all, and that each person gets what they believe, need, want, or deserve. Perhaps the life of an individual is shaped by their beliefs and motivations, their need for survival or hedonism, and a fixed or alterable fate has nothing to do it. Whatever the case, it is clear that what people live, or think they should live their lives, is guided by a reason that they tell themselves. That rationale becomes the source of all other beliefs, opinions, motivations, and choices; it influences the urgency or negligence with which they go about their daily activities. It can make them accept and bear unnecessary suffering because they believe they deserve it or it is inevitable – it may even cause them to give up on life itself – or it can enable them to develop the grit to do anything possible to get out of any hardship. It affects the way they appreciate family, look for friends, engage with strangers, and make enemies. It also determines how they accept happiness and process loss, how they judge the importance of one piece of knowledge or from another, and what they use it for. That reason for living can provide direction – or indirection – in every area of the individual’s life.
The why of a man’s life is the wheel with which he or she steers the ship. It dictates his destination; the route to take, which seas to sail, to get there, and the crew to hire. And while at sea, based on the goals of his voyage, the strength of his ship, and the skills and courage of his crew, he can boldly decide to sail through or steer clear of storms. He can decide to befriend fellow sailors, and to avoid or do battle with pirates. A well-planned voyage has a clear route, a specific destination, and plans to account for contingencies and dangers that might occur at sea. And, even after all that preparation, he must constantly consult his maps, spyglass, compass, his crew, and the stars, in order to be sure he is on the correct course.
Every captain strives for the ideal success of a voyage across the ocean, which means the safe arrival of his ship at the port, all passengers accounted for, all cargo intact, and the crew healthy and ready to sail again after a few days of well-earned rest. In life, however, success is measured by the journey, not the end of it; for the end of life is death. Death is a tragic ending to any life, regardless of its owner’s accomplishments or failures. Whatever the individual had accomplished, and was working on, is etched in stone forever at the moment of death; life becomes legacy, although not all legacy can stand the test of time. Some people are forgotten only moments after they pass on. Indeed, some people are forgotten even before they draw their last breath. Some are appreciated for their exemplary lives or for the good things they did for others. And then, sooner or later, memories of them gradually fade away, and life must go on; because, no matter how good, generous, and helpful they were, the dead cannot assist the living in any way. Still, there are others who are still remembered decades, even centuries, after their passing. These are men whose deeds and contributions to society were and are still memorable and relevant today, and will be for years to come; men whose legacies are too important or too terrible to forget.
Not all of mankind can leave behind lasting legacies for posterity. We all cannot be great emperors, kings, or statesmen of great civilizations, or valiant soldiers and heroes of our time. Not everybody is gifted to be an artist or sculptor like Michelangelo, or can compose extraordinary music like Beethoven or Chopin. Not everyone must be a popular singer, renowned athlete, or distinguished actor; and certainly not anyone can be president, as some people at times joke about. In fact, few humans of late have the time and tenacity to study and understand mathematics, physics, psychology, or philosophy to a significant degree of mastery. Some people may consider my argument that some people are only capable of some things is nonsense. I can be anything I want to be, they will say. Perhaps to deny that claim is tantamount to saying that human potential is simply non-existent in some people. But one may fail to consider the fact that the capabilities and best efforts of a person are sometimes limited and impeded by nature, culture, and personal beliefs and expectations. But the irony is that some of those who cry loudest about their potential to be great are those who often accomplish nothing at all.
One ought to know what their environment will allow them to have and do. More importantly, one has to find out what they want, and what they are truly happy and effective at doing. Which is why, in my opinion at least, the beauty of a life lies in its longevity and its prosperity. A long life usually denotes many healthy years, and more time to accomplish something worthwhile and lasting. Prosperity is often the result of strategy, commitment, discipline, and action. It is the pride and joy and profit one derives from surmounting difficulties and solving problems. Longevity must go hand in hand with prosperity. A long life filled with poverty, regret, and misery is torture. A prosperous but short life is quite a letdown; perhaps if he lived longer, the strategic, committed, and disciplined man could have achieved so much more.
History is filled with men and women who embody the ideals of an ideal life: longevity and prosperity. But I do not believe that one can find them all in the history books. Not everyone can be important to the whole world. But anyone can be important to someone else. Therefore, if anyone should ask, Why am I alive? Why am I here? I would say, You’re alive because you must live. And you’re here to prosper. Whatever you do or don’t do must either prolong life, or make it better than it was – whether it is your life, or someone else’s.
Live long and prosper. That is why you are here.