Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wasted Lives

Wasted Lives
by Scott Bradley


"An unexamined life is not worth living." — Socrates

I referred to this famous line from Socrates in a recent post, and said I disagreed. If an unexamined life is not worth living, I said, then no life is worth living, because examining does not bestow meaning on life.

Socrates has been called the first Western man. This is because he questioned the presuppositions of his time. He questioned the existence of gods that behaved like depraved men. He questioned all the conventional wisdom and knowledge of his time. And, most importantly, he examined his own heart and mind in search of honesty.

If examining one's life does not bestow meaning upon it, it can, however, bestow greater 'authenticity'. Authenticity is honesty about who one is, both as a unique individual and as a human being with the shared reality of what that means — “the human condition". It also means living out as much as possible the potential of one's individuality and humanity. This does not mean that one must 'accomplish' something--be a success, make one's mark, raise a family. It means understanding and being who one is, where understanding informs one's becoming, which, in the human case, is being.

Nevertheless, consider the possibility that there has never been a 'wasted life', even all the 'inauthentic' ones. I do not find this easy. But to get the sense of it is, I believe, to begin to touch the heart of philosophical Taoism's sense of things. The equality of all things. The essential 'rightness' of all things. The unconditional and unearnable 'worth' of all things. The essential wellness of the Totality, and thus of every individual thing, how ever its expression manifests.

When Zhuangzi tells us that "no one lives longer than a dead child" he is not only teaching the relative nature of every perspective; he is also breaking the back of 'worthwhile'/'wasted', mutually-generated discrimination. He is suggesting that all is well.

There is another level, of course. There always is. We care that an infant dies. We strive to prevent infant mortality. Our transcendence of the human 'inclinations' of caring and grief, does not mean we do not care and grieve. We walk Two Roads.

When I think of wasted lives, I think of my fellow 19-year-olds lying in contorted death beside me in Vietnam. It being Memorial Day, this day that I write, perhaps it is appropriate to now remember and share. There have indeed been those who died because it was the 'right' thing to do, but that was not in 'my' war, nor, it seems to me, in any war since. For me, Memorial Day is the remembrance of wasted lives.

Wasted? Yes. But there is also a more transcendent view.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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