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Values, Responsibility, and Meaning: Unfolding the Meaning of a Real Life

“How can you come to know yourself? Never by thinking; always by doing. Try to do your duty, and you’ll know right away what you amount to. And what is your duty? Whatever the day calls for.”

-Goethe

 

There have been lots of different theories about the meaning of life. Some authors say that life is meaningless and sometimes even not worth living; others say that life is meaningless even though it is possible to create meaning, that is, to have positive thoughts concerning life; and others say that life has meaning per se and that it may be found in everyone’s life. Without hesitation, it is possible to state that life has meaning and that there is a clear way to find it, here and now, whatever the real circumstances of one’s life may be. In order to find meaning in life, it is necessary for one to be aware of what meaning is and how to deal with it, in case it is hidden, so to speak.

It is evident that a lot of people really believe that life is meaningless and worthless. The twentieth century has shown us clearly that this kind of belief is well embedded in our society. However, saying that life is meaningless and worthless is in fact a type of belief in itself; furthermore, it is not clear what this belief aims at. No wonder why totalitarian regimes succeeded in being brought to reality and killing millions of people. Since people are worthless and their lives are meaningless, so let us try to build a paradise on earth – a better world – even if it is necessary to kill some of them, those who disagree with the regime. Some people really believe in this kind of discourse, even nowadays.

Another solution for the problem of meaningless life is trying to create meaning through psychological tricks, which are supposed to make people feel better. Yes, instead of trying to make life meaningful, feeling better is enough and is sometimes considered the highest value in life. Carpe diem, they say, no matter how bad you are going to feel after you are not able to enjoy life anymore (and for most people this day really comes.) When this day comes, the person will probably begin to think more like the other group: “I have enjoyed my life, I have had all sorts of pleasure, and now? Maybe I was wrong and life does not have a meaning. Why is it worth living then?”

Despite all the different theories that pop up everyday about the lack of meaning in life; despite all the wishful thinking that tries to make up a meaning that sooner or later will show itself fake; despite all of that , life is meaningful and the meaning of life may be found in every situation, in everyone’s life. It is possible to consider meaning at least on two different levels: meaning in general (the meaning of all humanity) and the meaning of one person’s life. The former is very complex, and requires very complex analysis in different fields: psychology, philosophy, metaphysics etc; the latter is possible to track down, in other words, it is possible to find the specific meaning of life in the life of one specific person in a given situation.

It is possible to find meaning in one specific life through the analysis of facts. Meaning is present when value is brought into reality, in other words, when there is the realization of value. Whatever it may be that one person does or thinks, if there is value in that, there will be the presence of meaning and, as a consequence, this person’s life might be called a meaningful life. But the question is: what are the phenomena through which it is possible to bring value into reality? To answer this question, it is necessary to know that there are three different types of values: creative values, experimental values and attitudinal values. Creative values (also called activity values) are those that are experienced when one does something that brings about the experience of fulfillment, that shows the person her own potentialities; it is usually present in creational activities. Experimental values are those present in high level experiences, so to speak, experiences that allow the person to grasp some meaning of reality; it is most present among artists, intellectuals etc., among people who are constantly in touch with materials (or places) that make them understand things that would be very difficult to be understood by any other way. It is the kind of experience present when in touch with high quality books, works of art, beautiful landscapes etc. Attitudinal values are those values that are present when there is a positive attitude towards life the way it is, even if it is one of the worst possible lives. Even in the most tragic life it is possible to endure the situation and face the facts with dignity. In simple terms, attitudinal values have to do with bearing one’s cross, whatever it might be. It is possible to realize either one or more of the three types of values in any specific situation in one’s life. It is important to notice that these three categories of values may either overlap each other or show up independently, so to speak. When one brings into reality creative values, he is making the world richer by doing something; when one brings into reality experimental values, he is making himself richer through experience.1

In order for one to be able to bring values into reality it is necessary to live in a responsible way. But for one to live in a responsible way it is necessary to know what responsibility really is. It is very important to note here that nowadays the word “responsibility” has been misused by many wishful thinkers. The meaning of the word “responsibility” that I use here has nothing to do with the progressive agenda terminology.

When one lives in a responsible way, he is every second of his life conscious of three important things, and these three things are the things responsibility is composed of. The first one is the fact that being responsible means to be responsible for the next one; in other words, being responsible is to know that your actions have consequences not only on your own life, but on the lives of the people around you. Every time you do something, you click start a chain of consequences that God only knows where it ends. That’s why it is important to be sure at least of the proximal consequences of your actions; actually, the more conscious you are of the consequences of your actions, the more you may consider yourself responsible. The second characteristic of responsibility is the fact that whenever you do something, you sacrifice many other things that might have been done. In any specific situation there are lots of possible ways for one to choose to follow. When you choose one, the other ones simply die, or better said, they do not come into being, you sacrifice them, so to speak.On the other hand, the choice that you have made will be eternal, it will come into being and will never go back to nothing. This choice will be forever part of your biography and even of your eternal life. The third aspect of responsibility is the fact that you have the power to bring something into reality; the way that you choose to follow in one specific situation ceases to be only one possibility and comes into being thanks to you; so you’d better watch out in order to make the most responsible choice at any specific situation in your life.

To sum up, responsibility has three main characteristics, which you’d better be aware of every second of your life: when you are responsible, you have to know that 1) your actions have consequences on other people’s lives and you should be likely to do good things to other people; 2) your choices will be forever part of your life, they will be eternal, so you have to choose what you would like to be eternal and sacrifice the other possibilities; 3) you have the power to bring one possibility into reality, so you have to think carefully whether it is worth to make something happen or not.

Responsibility is a kind of  “value detector.” If you are conscious of these three characteristics of responsibility, you will probably find possible values that are only virtual in one specific situation. At this moment you will see that your life has been full of meaning and that you have the power to make them part of reality, in other words, it is possible for you to make other people’s lives meaningful.

 

Notes

1. Frankl, Viktor E., Ärztliche Seelsorge: Grundlagen der Logotherapie und Existenzanalyse. DTV: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, 2007, p. 91.

Alex dos SantosAlex dos Santos

Alex dos Santos

Alex dos Santos is a language instructor and a committed student of philosophy and psychology. At the moment he works with cognitive development.

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