"One is deluded when one believes that what he or she says or doesn't say, [does or doesn't do], makes no real difference." -- Dr. James Smart, What Really Matters
About a week ago, I was sitting and reading a book called, What Really Matters, a collection of lectures from professors of all disciplines. A friend turned to me and said, "So what does really matter?"
"Yes," he replied.
"Virtue? That's boring!"
Well, ummm. No. Compassion, humility, temperance, and general uprightness, while not scintillating, are nevertheless necessary topics of thought and conversation. Nobody is going to be thrilled by my words this evening. But the end of the conversation with my friend has been weighing heavily on me since:
I meekly pointed out, "It's important to be good!"
"Why?" he breezed. "Nothing really matters anyway."
Well, that left me dumbfounded. Conversation over: Nihilism, 1. Bonney, 0. And it really is a shame I wasn't taught using the Socratic method more often. Perhaps if I were more accustomed to having my views challenged I could have formed a clearer response than, "Durrr well you don't really believe thaaaatttt...." Maybe.
But either way, I have now done my research, and have prepared this retort. I believe, so strongly, that we do matter. Our choices matter. Who we become, well darn it. It matters. Here's why:
My friend was exhibiting a nihilistic tendency with his blithe statement. And nihilism, existentialism, and the like—well, friends, they just aren't good roads to go down, philosophically speaking. The reason being: if you were to fully, truly embrace these philosophies, life would completely lose all meaning. Alas, that was the main thesis of these philosophers' statements. Indeed, the true nihilist would have to reasonably conclude that in a world completely lacking rules, norms, knowledge, and morality, the next significant action would be suicide. Life is hard. And if there is no good to live for, why live? And this, my friends, is why this movement never really caught on, except in our pseudo-intellectual-post-modern-blah-blah-blah conversations. Seriously. Nobody really believes this. And you know why?
Because we have an EGO. Or, to be a little less Freudian, the rational. "That conscious thinking thing," as John Locke would say. The part of us that cares about ourselves and our own development. So if we are to, quite literally, survive, one must accept that at least one thing matters. And that is you.
Now here is where the fun begins. For when the ego comes into play, the question of how relate to each other and how we should relate to each other becomes relevant. Because after all, if you matter, well that must mean that everybody else matters, too. Nihilism is just so... boring! Boring because it is just one big ole cop-out in the end. Any philosophy that ignores the matter of how we relate to one another ignores far too much to make a valid system of living.
And as a wise child I know would say, "And what's the whole point of that?"
Ok. So we have this sense of self, and sense of others, and that matters. And we have these six-billion-plus population, all with this same "selfness," all mattering. So. Hm. Isn't it a logical train of thought to say then, "Well, if all these selves matter, then perhaps how I fit in with all these different selves matters, too." After all, it is certainly not a difficult claim to prove that we can do irreparable harm to one another. To take a little existentialist example, try on Camus's The Stranger when Meursault shoots that Arab man for no other reason than it is hot outside.
Although, if we were all do go about doing that in Texas, we would have excellent population control in the summer. Since we have the highest rate of teen mothers with more than one child and all. But I digress.
The point is, outside of absurdist novels, we can't just go around shooting people. So, if we can all agree to do one another no egregious harm is an aspect of wise living, perhaps there is a flip side. A way TO treat each other.
To most of you, this exposition will seem somewhat unnecessary. But I have seen a disturbing trend in those my age to accept this philosophy of the meaningless of life, and I have seen it lead to a general attitude of thoughtlessness, selfishness, unkindness, and, even more dangerously, depression, alcoholism, and generally self-destructive behavior.
All that to say, sometimes I can be thoughtless. Selfish. Unkind. I get depressed, and sometimes I do really stupid things. But I see these as faults, issues to be dealt with and changed, not acceptable attributes. I can't tell you how many peers have commented to me, "Well, this is the time to be selfish." No, friends. There is no time to be selfish—and I would even go a step further and say that the early twenties is the most important time to fight that vice; the habits we form now will be the habits we keep. And therein lies the difference between a virtuous person and non.
And really, you want to be a virtuous person because conflict is inevitable. And in those cases, don't you think it is a good idea to have some moral ground to stand on? A little strength of character?
I know I need to wrap this thing up. My next post will be much more about the virtues that matter to me, and my take on how to live a just, kind, and peaceful life. But I will end with this thought: I am fairly confident that this trend of not caring in my generation has much less to do with laziness (although in some cases that may be true) but rather in fear. We are afraid of how much influence we have over each other. We are afraid of the influence others have over us. We are afraid of our problems, afraid of our power. We are unwilling to accept that we have the ability to uplift or crush one another with the slight of our hand. So we ignore it. And oh dear. Do we ever sell ourselves short when we do that.
To live virtuously requires courage. Oh so much courage. You matter.