Friday, September 16, 2011

The meaning of life

A forum on the Internet, supposedly a site for idle talk or what one may ordinarily call inanities, has surprisingly been behaving recently like a fountain of ideas and questions that could be both timely and timeless. It’s why they called it “labo-labo,” or loosely translated, a “rumble.” Or even perhaps, a “double-blur.” The group’s purpose according to its originator is merely to share the “lighter side of life” but one is free to post bad, corny, recycled or even sex-laden jokes. I am not a member of this forum but once in a while their postings become intermingled by happenstance with messages on a parallel site which is dedicated to members of an alumni association here in Toronto.

The burning question of the purpose of life is not something for the idle chatter. Whether you pursue the secret of a happy life or one that is spent usefully and responsibly has always been the quintessential question people ask themselves, not just today but in previous millennia. Not by mere mortals, but also by deep-thinking philosophers of all times.

What is the meaning of life?
Life. Photo courtesy of gfpeck. Click link below to view "What is the Meaning
of Life?"
Let’s join in the following dialogue; the names of the participants are all fictitious although some of you may identify or connect their ideas with real persons who you may be familiar with.

RALPH: We are on planet earth for a good time, not for a long time. A 78-year-old woman once told me, “We live till we die.”

WALDO: But that’s like wandering in the forest aimlessly. Are we looking for an exotic plant that can be the cure-all for all our maladies? Or, are we simply going into the forest just for a walk in the woods? The purpose of life is not merely to have a good time, or be happy. One must be useful to society. For example, in this coming Ontario elections, if we don’t support our fellow Filipinos who are running for a seat in the Ontario legislature, we’ll never have anyone so close to us who can help us with our issues and problems. Do you think the Philippine candidate for Ms. Universe would have made it to the finals, even if she didn’t win, if Lea Salonga was not in the panel of judges? We need to make a difference, and one way to do it is to make our life useful. I believe in what Leo C. Rosten said that we must stand for something in order to make some difference that we have lived at all.

RALPH: Did Rosten really say that? I knew Rosten was a successful scriptwriter. I still recall several of his stories which were adapted into films. Didn’t he also say that “Truth is stranger than fiction?” Anyway, this is how I interpreted Rosten. If we want to be happy in life, we don’t have to chase it like it’s an elusive dream. We just do the right thing, like the Nike commercial. If we do it right, that will make us happy. Take the Ms. Philippines candidate for Ms. Universe. How can one win with that kind of name, Ms. Supsup or whatever? Or that Filipino candidate in Hamilton whom Annie is endorsing that we support. How is she going to unseat the leader of the NDP? And she’s a rookie politician, totally green, and has nothing to match the NDP leader’s record. Just because she is a Filipino and from the Liberal Party doesn’t mean she’s good enough to represent us in Parliament. Annie must be daydreaming. All I can say is they’re not doing the right thing.
2011 Miss Universe Third Runner-Up, Ms. Shamcey Supsup of the Philippines. Photo
 by J. Paolo Jose. Click link to view,
 "Shamcey Supsup Q&A, Miss Universe 2011."
WALDO: Your problem is you’ve never been serious about anything. Rosten also said that most of us never really grow up or mature. We may laugh less or play less, and wear uncomfortable disguises like adults but beneath that stuff is the child we always are. We like to live our lives like people do in fairy tales.

RALPH: You’re beginning to sound more and more like someone I know who always has a perspective on things. He knows how to twist one’s arguments.

LYNNE: You two will never be able to resolve your argument. Here, I will give you a copy of Bronnie Ware’s Top Five Regrets. Bronnie weaves delightful tales of real-life observations and experiences through her work. All she’s is saying is, life is a choice we have to make. We choose consciously, wisely and honestly, and so we choose happiness. Very inspirational, that Bronnie. By the way, have you both signed up for our next month’s Sketching from Life Kapihan? For the third year, we’ll have the Artists’ Group sketch a live nude model and we’re the only ones who have the chutzpah to hold this kind of event in our community.

RALPH: I don’t know why you keep on holding this nudie thing. It’s disguised voyeurism, especially for those dirty old men in our group.

WALDO: For the first time I find myself agreeing with you. Every student-artist naturally begins with sketches of the human body, that’s true. But real art appreciation goes beyond that. Even artists in their prime don’t paint nude human figures anymore. Look at the works of Canada’s Group of Seven. You don’t find any nude paintings among their celebrated works. Even the greatest masterpieces of our time do not include the earlier nude sketches of these artists. It’s the enigmatic smile of Da Vinci’s La Gioconda which captivates us, not her bare body which we don’t even see. Mona Lisa’s painting illustrates a kind of mythic embodiment of eternal femininity. You can’t say that about nude sketches. Certainly, not those drawings by our AG artists. Isn’t it time we moved on to better use of our talent and imagination? Like something we can be responsible for and not just to excite our senses?
Modigliani's Nude Sitting on the Couch, Sotheby's New York, 2010. Photo courtesy
of RasMarley. Click link to view "Naked Ladies in Art/Women in Art/Famous Artists"
RALPH: But you still need to be happy with what you’re doing.

WALDO: I thought your argument is that happiness could be the end-all of life, not the way, or the how, to achieve it. You said it yourself. Happiness is what you get as a satisfaction from doing good things.

RALPH: We see people today who do bad things, but they are happy. Think of drug pushers, pimps, politicians. They are not doing good things, but they seem to be happy. How do you argue with that? What they do doesn’t make me happy, but it makes me laugh.

WALDO: Susan Wolf in her recent book, Meaning of Life and Why It Matters, wrote that a meaningful life is distinct from a happy life or a morally good one. She says in order for life to be meaningful, it must also be worthwhile. A person living this kind of life must be engaged by it. It is not enough to be committed to certain causes, like feeding the poor, ministering to the sick, or even saving the Spratlys for our country’s good. We must feel moved by these causes. Otherwise, we lack meaningfulness in this sense.

RALPH: Which of our actions are meaningful and which are a waste of time? I may win the lottery and it may make me happy, but it doesn’t make my life meaningful.

WALDO: Life has meaning because you give it meaning through your commitment.

RALPH: I’m past 60 now and, coming from the peasant class, most of what you’re saying as part of your world of philosophy is beyond me. I can’t even tell with certainty which came first: the chicken or the egg. Even if the meaning of life is on my top ten list, when I get out of bed in the morning and you ask me what the meaning of life is, I would respond without a doubt, “A cup of coffee and a bagel!” My point is, it is not so much a question but an experience. The experience of having a meaningful life, not the thought of having a meaningful life.

WALDO: That is exactly what Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, said. We usually say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning of life, when in fact what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.

RALPH: Crap, I’m totally lost. Maybe we should make this a regular topic of our conversation during our kapihan, instead of just sipping coffee or getting our eyes foggy trying to get a good look at a nude model’s lower regions. Hasta la vista, my friend!

1 comment:

  1. Dunno how I missed this one but this is great...let me ponder for a while because time is running out on me to pursue the real meaning of life...