Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Enjoying life

Recently, a friend wrote me with some bad news. Someone she knew had died, somewhat unexpectedly. After describing what had happened, she concluded with a "Life is short, so let's enjoy it." I completely agree that life is, indeed, short, and that we can never know what's going to happen. I also agree that enjoying life, and being able to appreciate what we have, is important. Having said that, it's also important to remember that, while enjoying life, we should keep our egotism in check, and that we should not enjoy it at the expense of others.

It would be a bit short-sighted if all we learned from life's sadder moments was "let's just have fun". Instead of taking a step towards hedonism, these types of events should remind us of the pressing need to engage in charity. For people like me, the meaning of life is very much connected to the act of helping others - other people and/or animals. A tragedy should remind us that other human beings and animals suffer a great deal as well, and that we should not put off actively helping whenever we can, while we still can.

This, of course, does not mean that we should abstain from any kind of mindless fun. Mindless fun can be quite enjoyable. From an ethical point of view, however, there is a difference between (relatively) harmless mindless fun and harmful mindless fun. If I wake up one morning, and decide that I'm just not spontaneous enough, it would be wrong for me to go and walk the streets and just start punching people in the face. Sure, this is pretty spontaneous, but there are countless other ways of being unpredictable without inflicting violence on innocent passers-by. If I suddenly decide that I need some excitement in my life, it would be wrong to go and become a bullfighter, since this, although exciting, promotes the torture and killing of innocent animals. Again, there are countless other ways to get our heart pumping and our adrenaline flowing that don't involve making innocent beings suffer. If I want to try a new food, it shouldn't be meat, because killing a sentient being for the selfish pleasure of eating his/her flesh should simply no longer be acceptable in our day and age. The meat, dairy, and egg industries are responsible for an enormous amount of death and suffering that occurs in the world, so you would do well to avoid these products.

Life is, indeed, short. We can use this as a pretext to focus on our own needs, and to pursue selfish gratification. Historically, this has been the approach of most people, and look where it's gotten us. Alternatively, we can embrace a less selfish approach to life. After all, we only have a limited amount of time to learn to live ethically, to learn to be good human beings, to learn to not use and abuse the other creatures that we share the planet with. We only have a limited amount of time to see beyond our immediate needs and to reach out to help others. We only have a limited time to see beyond our conditioning and to break the bad habits that are destroying us and the world we live in. If this is what we remember and act on every time we're reminded that we won't be here forever, we will have achieved progress and instilled our lives with true meaning.