Ever Changing, Ever the Same
Henry David Thoreau wrote, in Walden, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."
Politicians come and go, movements come and go, the social contract is altered by each new generation. And, through all these changes, Thoreau's observation remains prescient. He saw this as an unconscious part of the nature of human beings. Thoreau's words echo those of Socrates in this translation, "The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being."
Our primate nature mostly does not drive us to examine our relationship with reality. We are, though, driven to understand the rules and roles of our culture and subculture to the extent necessary to provide for adequate personal security and finding a mate. But that does leave us, as a population, struggling with our perceptions of what is wrong with the way things are at any given moment. At each moment, we are convinced that it is not suppose to be this way or that it is suppose to be some other way and, most importantly, we beleive that we are helpless to change it. That sense of helplessness in the face of what we perceive as obvious inequities, expresses itself as resignation and cynicism. We are left as a species desperately living unexamined lives, taking our cultural truths at face value even when discordant.
Meanings. Nothing More Than Meanings
We are creatures of habit. Our behaviors and beliefs are reinforced and become the truth about the way things are and the way things are not. To some degree or another, we are each living in a personal reality that does not accurately reflect the physical reality of our world. The value of examining one's life is to discover the personal truths that only serve to suppress one's natural expression. Discovering and discarding our habits of thinking about who we are and who other people are with the sole purpose of setting ourselves free ends the desperation and provides the path to a life worth living.
Examining one's life is not a search for the truth about life or ourselves. One of the first areas to examine is one's relationship with truth followed by our moral codes. Giving up the cherished belief that things are right or wrong, or good or bad provides a doorway into the world of what is possible for us individually and within our groups and communities.
During the process of examining one's habitual ways of thinking about the world, it may become clear that everything we think is true about morality and social conduct is simply a human creation and contains no more truth than any fairytale woven by children. We have simply forgotten that we made it up. And, interestingly, we made it up before we reached maturity. We live lives of quiet desperation because we created the world as a desperate place when we were four or fourteen. Clearly, though, for most of us, our anxieties have been with us all of our adult life. We just have better interpretations and reasons.
Examining one's life is a courageous act. We give up cherished beliefs with no guarantee that reality provides something better and a great deal of worry that it will provide something far worse. But living with the devil you know is still living with the devil. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain.