warningAs I pondered the many reasons that my life is meaningless and pointless, my mind latched onto the topic of how much I dislike a certain cliché. ‘Tis often said that one’s self-worth should not be defined by other people. This idea, which is related to the self-esteem trend, is used to negate the insecurities of people who feel disliked, to critique the opinions of people who feel lonely, and to undermine the unrealistic and superficial definition of love that is prevalent in pop culture. The last of these three objectives is the only one that has any merit, and even then, this cliché phrase addresses this cliché idea in the wrong way. I may or may not explain what I mean by that later. I can’t be sure at this point, since this is an unedited and unoutlined blog post. (Otherwise, it would be destined to forever remain an unfinished blog post, ‘cause I am kind of busy and stuff.)

disclaimerThe point of the aforementioned cliché about self-worth is that you shouldn’t worry about what other people think, that your relationships with other people don’t define who you are, and that you can live a good, happy, and purposeful life without other people being an important part of it. The first of those three points is often (but not always) true, depending upon the context. The second is kind of a philosophical point that you could argue either way; but I would argue that it’s false. I think that the relationships between family members, friends, classmates and coworkers, and even random strangers are so significant that it really is fair to say that a person is largely defined by their relationships with other people. After all, we describe people’s personalities based upon the way they interact with other people. The obvious example is that introversion vs. extroversion is one of the basic personality distinctions in every personality model with which I’m familiar. (Certainly in both the Myers-Briggs and the Big Five, which are the only two that are widely considered to be useful) Furthermore, most people’s moral values, opinions, interests, and tastes are at least strongly influenced by those of their family and friends. I realize that the “other people don’t define you” cliché doesn’t mean quite what I’m taking it to imply, but it seems to be that those implications are definitely present even if they aren’t intended. And then the third point mentioned above is definitely untrue. It’s meaningless to even try to argue that life is meaningful without other people.

triangle warningsI don’t mean that in a corny way. I’m not talking about emotional validation coming from the support and affection of other people. I’m questioning what it means to talk about meaning and purpose in life, and as far as I’m concerned, the answer to that question is pretty obvious. You accomplish meaningful things in life when your existence and your actions have a positive impact on the world around you. “The world around you”, of course, means other people. I suppose you could argue for the value of environmental work, but I would counter that even then, the reason it’s good to protect the environment is that it helps other people. Your personal talents, abilities, and situation in life will determine how exactly you’re supposed to make this impact, what degree of influence you will have, and how many people will be affected by you. But if nobody else is benefitting from you in any way, you’re either living only for your own enjoyment or accomplishing literally nothing at all. I don’t mean that to be a moralistic statement; I just think that it’s the obvious definition of purpose in life.

trianglesI didn’t intend to make that into a religious statement, either, and I feel like it’s necessary to point that out, because if this was supposed to have religious connotations, it would be terribly legalistic. The fact of the matter is that sin negates any good and purposeful things that we do, and that any individual’s net value is negative until you bring God’s forgiveness and salvation into the equation. And by Christ’s crucifixion, we are clothed in His righteousness, and it’s therefore no longer necessary for us to wonder whether we are living good and purposeful lives. That is, it’s not necessary for our salvation. That certainly doesn’t mean that we’re actually supposed to spend the rest of our lives doing nothing but lazily sitting around, playing Settlers of Catan online, and watching Mythbusters. (On a related note, guess what I did with my Friday night yesterday?)

tangent lineThe above paragraph, by the way, was not where I was intending to go with this; it was just a long tangent, which is what happens to one’s writing when one decides that one doesn’t have the time to decide what to write before one writes it, or to edit one’s writing afterwards. As I trace the tangent back to the point where it meets the topic at hand, I find that I seem to have gone off-course at the point that one’s purpose in life is in fact not independent of one’s relationship with other people. So I’ll go back to that point and follow it in the direction I had originally intended, until my brain gets distracted by another tangent. (I blame it on calculus. It’s hard to avoid tangents when you’re taking a calculus class and are expected to look for tangents.)

trigonometrySo, I am disagreeing with the idea that a person’s value is independent of other people, and instead saying that a person’s value comes from their relationships with other people, and that a person’s purpose is to make life a better place for other people. And just for clarification, I will add that by “relationship”, I’m not talking specifically about romantic relationships. I’m talking about any connection between people, whether it is between family, friends, acquaintances, or random strangers who briefly interact in a public place and never meet again or even remember the encounter. If I’m going to stick with my definition of purpose, then I have to come to the conclusion that any of these relationships can be used to do something purposeful.

scrabble and speed of lightHowever, since I have already used the term “romantic relationships”, (even though I used it only to say that I wasn’t specifically talking about it) I actually have something else to say about it, and that is this: I really don’t like the English word ‘love’. It’s not that I’m not opposed to the idea of romance, as anyone who knows me on tumblr would attest. (For some reason, tumblr seems to bring out an overly sentimental side in me, the kind of side that probably would have liked Titanic even if it didn’t have a great soundtrack and exploding lights. For example, the other day, I informed tumblr that I needed to fall in love with someone so that I could use the line, “The only thing that will ever come between us is the word ‘and.’“)The reason that I don’t like the word ‘love’ is that it has too many meanings that are very different. The Greek language has the right idea when it distinguishes between αγαπη, ερως, and φιλια. Incidentally, can you tell that I recently figured out how to use Greek letters in Microsoft Word? This, in my opinion, is extremely cool. I have now forgotten what I was about to say, and I think it was completely irrelevant anyway.

voicesThe general gist of what I’ve been saying here is that it’s not true that a person’s value has nothing to do with other people. And the reason that this seemed relevant is that it offered a somewhat more specific way for me to tell myself that my own life is pointless. I mean, I’m a full-time student, so pretty much all of my effort and energy goes into the attempts to make myself more knowledgeable. This has absolutely no impact whatsoever on the world around me. If I just randomly decided to stop trying and to instead dedicate my life to internet games, nobody except me would even notice any difference. It’s a depressing thought. Yeah, I think that’s where I was going with this whole thing. It may have looked like I had more positive and/or interesting things to say, but I didn’t. I warned you that this was a very disorganized and rambling blog post.

catanAnd now, the next thing I need to do is to decide whether Settlers of Catan or homework is more important tonight, and to rewrite a version of my to-do list that reflects this priority.