There isn’t a worst tragedy in life than being ignorant of the rules of existence, for this dilemma on probable limitation of human wisdom is best summarized in an Old Testament book of Hosea 4:6 which, declares “My people are destroyed for the lack of understanding”. Mankind has misconstrued the short life, tantamount to fleeting clouds and ephemeral mists on planet Earth as the relentless pursuit of happiness. A neo-modernist messiah screams from a mountaintop “Lend me your ears O humans. Your purpose in life is NOT to pursue happiness, for it is as directionless as the wind and as unpredictable as death. Don’t be led astray into the blind alleys of despair only to see glaring signposts compounding the disappointment, “Happiness is NOT here”. The messiah exhorts again, “You better be a detached observer of life, like a visitor marveling at the beauty and aghast at the ugliness of a sprawling city away from his home with indifference”.
Ever since the ‘mad man’ appeared in Frederick Nietzsche’s’, Thus Spake Zarathustra–a monumental book on both tragedy and parody of life- and stormed into the market place proclaiming “God is Dead”, several alternatives to an omnipotent God were experimented. Marxism, Fascism, Existentialism, Modernism, Nihilism and ultimately our ultra-wired societies helplessly witness a post-Modern and post-Truth world. Hedonism and Epicureanism were revived by the hippie counterculture of the 1960’s and 70’s culminating in cultural revolutions like the ‘Prague Spring’, detaching western societies from the moral authority of religious institutions. ‘Scientific Materialism’ stripped Man of his unique spiritual essence equating him to mere primates who are just two chromosomes lesser than a chimpanzee. But that also defines and differentiates a man, making him exclusive, for it has produced poets, musicians, scientists and geniuses capable of exploring the cosmos and investigating its origins.
Material possessions, money, power and pelf became the center of man’s existence accentuated by the primacy of pleasure and happiness as the end in itself of all his worldly endeavors. Psychology replaced spirituality, economics substituted humanness and feelings were reduced to mere biochemical reactions. Every citizen became a potential customer; a cog in the wheel of profit-making enterprises driven to maximize shareholder value in liberal free market economies. Consumerism exploded and mankind was bombarded with a proliferation of choices-of products and services.
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But did matter bring man happiness? Half a century later from the quantum explosion of knowledge and technological advances, man licks his own wounds, deeply discontented and disenchanted in his pursuit of happiness at the sight of mushrooming stress clinics, broken families, soaring divorces and suicides, rampant drug abuse and turbulent minds caught in a spiral of cyclical helplessness. Globally, social inequalities in income and wealth distribution are soaring at alarming levels. Wide chasms separate the haves from the have-nots. The obsession with happiness and its pursuit remains an elusive dream, a double-edge weapon of the Tempter, to lure hapless souls into the unfathomable abyss of sorrow. In a world of vanishing love, happiness is a drizzling rain in a parched land. It is an occasional burst of wave in the calm ocean of bereavements and worries. The 21st century man painfully realizes that matter can never provide happiness…
So, then what is the true purpose of human lives? The true purpose in life is growth and to constantly seek meaning and value. The most appropriate analogy for growth is the existence of a tree in an unforgiving terrain. The roots penetrate deep into the soil, negotiating all barriers on its path to reach the point of receiving nutrients for its sustenance. For a passerby marveling at the dazzling canopy of the tree’s colors in fall, its nestling birds, rustling leaves and delectable fruits, the root is always invisible. Only the fruits are visible to the naked eyes and never the roots. C’est la vie! This is the eternal principle of life; the blood, sweat and toil are the nutrients for growth in character which, is the fruit visible to all, but solely dependent on the quality of the roots that are invisible.
The world is a cruel place, and everybody is destined to suffer. Perhaps mankind has misinterpreted the word suffering. It’s true meaning epistemologically might be ‘growth’, for man is notorious for deceiving himself. Then, the only noble and honorable option in life is to suffer like a man, which to the delight of an indifferent universe is to grow in character, analogous to the process of gold being purified in a furnace or a lethal sword finished a polished by a sword-smith. The sparks flying off the sword during sharpening is your struggle and pain in a fallen world. To strive for a better person every day is the unknown goal of a human being that had or will ever tread the earth. This choice to learn and grow continuously should be your aspirational goal, building on the foundations of a lofty ideal that is meaningful insofar as it benefits your neighbor, society and the nation. The potential of an individual seeking common good selflessly through participation in the treacherous process of growth is wonderfully edifying and has always served humanity morally, intellectually and physically. Allowing you to grow beyond yourself through your tears, pain and anguish is holistically the true meaning of spirituality.
The creation story in Genesis provides an insightful account into the vulnerability of man when the true moral purpose of existence is infringed. When these stories are emancipated from the bondage of personal literalism -often the work of culpable new-age evangelists to supplant deep spiritual truths with historical events – an accurate description of depraved human condition emerges from its depths. Immediately after the Fall, Adam blames Eve, who in turn transfers the blame to the cunning serpent and everyone in the story starts lying. Their son Cain perpetuate the vicious, dark side of human nature when he murders his brother Abel, because he was favored by God over him. Human beings need to reconcile their wickedness and resentment. True to the Genesis story, we still conjure sinister designs to destroy others who are better than us, dodge accusations by lying and to hide from the consequences. And sadly, when evil is committed, the underlying motives are always good; to achieve happiness but by taking wrong routes.
Our beliefs color our perception of the world and events around us. It shapes our worldview and creates meaning in our lives. Therefore, it is essential to have great aims and purposes in life. Like the archer aiming for the target with full concentration and single-minded devotion, you only see what you aim at. If the aims are corrupted, often collateral damages and destruction ensues. The bloodbaths of the 20th century proliferates with normal people perpetrating unspeakable evil due to their entrenched and nefarious belief systems.
Joseph Mengele, the notorious SS doctor in Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz, known as “The Angel of Death”, due to his inhuman medical experiments conducted on Jewish prisoners of war, not even sparing little children, was a loving father and a responsible citizen himself. But he obsessively and passionately believed that Jews were the vermin and scums of the earth, only worthy of extermination. Similarly, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were neither psychopaths nor homicidal maniacs but normal people whose monstrous evil and dark human side manifested due to spurious ideological systems they propagated and executed. Historically, morally and logically, the need for a higher belief system rooted in universal moral laws supersedes the human need for happiness. Happiness is only a byproduct of obeying those laws.
Human beings are not isolated entities, but can be conceived as nodes in a network. In the famous theory, Six Degrees of Separation, sociologists and technologists claim that you are only six introductions away from any other person on the planet inhabited by 7.5 billion people. That’s how closely linked, human lives are in a highly networked and interconnected world. Man should redefine his goals commensurate with meaning and values rather than happiness to capitalize on the immense good possible through just six degrees of separation. And meaning and values are imparted in individual lives only through growth in the storm and stress of the world.
About the author : Jaykhosh Chidambaran is an accomplished management professional with over 20 years of diverse industry experience in MNC’s and is currently an EdTech Growth and Strategy Consultant for India & Middle East. He is an alumnus of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Disclaimer : The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of TAS and TAS does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.