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Do we need meaning?

From the outset, this writing project’s been about meaning – about what our lives might mean, the meaning behind all the things we do, where that leads, and whether it really matters. As beings capable of thought, I honestly struggle to look at life without an overlay of meaning; much as it might be difficult to pin down or articulate.

It’s this undercurrent of human existence: what it all means, what matters, which paths to take. This sense in which we’re “able” to make decisions about our lives, choose what to do or not do, have an idea in mind as to our personal, social or absolute value (Notes One). If nothing matters at the end of the day, it might seem we and our lives carry little meaning. There’s a circularity to it – thought, existence, action.

The very idea of thought seems to carry with it a sense of scrutiny, observation, evaluation, resolve: looking at the world, reading it rightly, understanding what’s before us, and charting our paths within it (Notes Two). As if the mind itself has this intrinsic belief about the value of thought in helping us navigate existence wisely.

And it certainly seems that way. Even as children, we look at life and interpret its meaning – drawing into ourselves the ideas, attitudes, stories, implications of all we encounter. We see what gestures or relationships say about us, our worth, our place or power in life, and the nature of the world we’re living in. The thoughts of others and of social systems wrap around us, in many ways (Notes Three).

Which is philosophical as much as practical: there’s the systemic side of all we do, then the more absolute sense of meaning woven through those realities. Surely both sides matter? From the human perspective, it’s our hopes in life and how we’d like to be received by the world. From the societal, there’s the evolving systems we’re all part of and how well principles are being brought to life there.

To my mind, life’s this interplay of ideals and realities – an ongoing conversation between us all through the systems, structures and relationships that’ve evolved within and between human societies. In that, there’s meaning: nested assumptions about the value of human life; established patterns of what’s considered acceptable; all these subtle messages beneath the lives we lead (Notes Four).

That, to me, is the importance of meaning: that everything carries within it some sort of evaluation, judgement or decision. Everything we do “says” something about the resources, people, or principles at hand. There surely “is” meaning within our lives? Our attitudes and actions towards others or the planet speak volumes about the value we’ve assigned them. Every interaction’s arguably an expression of meaning.

But then, it also seems we cast meaning aside quite often, claiming it’s not relevant or isn’t our responsibility. If that’s the case, who “is” responsible for meaning and judgement? Who are we trusting to understand on our behalves, and where might they lead us?

Notes and References:

Note 1: “Ecological Intelligence”
Note 1: Does anything exist in isolation?
Note 1: The philosopher stance
Note 2: Power in what we believe
Note 2: Working through mind & society
Note 2: Ideas that tie things together
Note 3: Meaning within it all
Note 3: Value and worth in our relationships
Note 3: What if it all means something?
Note 4: Some thoughts about ‘life’
Note 4: What really matters

Building further on ideas of deferring responsibility, there’s What would life be if we could trust?

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