What Really Matters?
All the decisions we make are based on what truly matters to us. But do we ever take the time to think about what really matters? Or do we just react? Some thoughts on creating a firmer foundation.
Asking yourself what really matters to you is part of asking what you want. You want things that matter to you, so what really matters? This is also not a simple question to answer. What really matters to whom? To yourself? To those around you? In the “grand scheme of things?”
And is there really a “grand scheme?” Is there some higher purpose? Is there something that makes things matter “in general?” What would that even mean?
Putting this grand scheme thing into context requires that you answer a few more difficult questions. For example, will anything matter beyond your own lifetime? Now there’s an eternal question. Does what you do today continue to matter after your life ends?
Those who believe there is something else we experience after our life ends may say yes, what they do in this life matters beyond their time here. Someone or something may be keeping score. They may be tallying up the good and bad things we do, based on someone’s definition of good and bad. You may indeed be sent to a good or a bad place based on your final score.
On the other hand, you may believe that when you’re done, you’re done. You are no longer conscious of what is happening to those who are still living. In fact, you’re not aware of anything. As it was before you were born, you simply are not. Your thought processes and perceptions cease. It’s not a happy prospect, but it may be the reality. Fortunately, you won’t be around to have to face it.
So how do we put what really matters into context? Is it what happens that benefits the most people? If so, who are those people? How were they selected? What if its only one person. Does that matter less?
What if what matters is what we do that continues to serve others long after we’re gone? 7 Habits of Highly Effective People author Stephen Covey said his personal mission was “To live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy!” Certainly, those of us who benefit from reading his books can identify the legacy he has left. But for how long? Will his work last another generation or two? Will it continue to serve down through the ages?
Of all the billions of people who have lived before the 8 Billion that currently inhabit the planet, how many have left work that has continued to serve others over time? Plato? Aristotle? Jesus Christ? Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha)? Certainly, the work of a few dozen thinkers and writers back in the eighteenth century continue to serve us questionably here in the United States almost a quarter millennium later.
Very few. The point is that very few people leave a truly lasting legacy that stands the test of time. Using that as our metric for what matters would render the vast majority of lives meaningless long term. How do we confront that in our lifetimes? That can’t be it.
What Do You Want?
Here we are back at the beginning. What you want determines what matters to you. That may sound selfish to you, but that depends on what you want!
What if you want to serve others, and serving others is what makes you happy? How bad could it be that serving others is what matters to you? Then again, we’ve all encountered people who are only concerned with what serves them. In the extreme, we call them narcissists. Only they matter to them.
Let’s Get Really Dark for a Moment
Returning to that “grand scheme of things” issue for a moment, what if human life as it exists on Earth is a pure accident. A chance combination of circumstances, occurrences, and environmental condition that has never occurred anywhere else.
Let’s travel back for a moment to the time of the “big bang” that purportedly created our universe. Okay, so where did that happen? Where did the “big bang” happen? What was happening there just before it went bang? Where was that happening? The big bang created the universe, so what was there before there was?
So, we try to wrap our heads around the idea that there was a time before there was time, and a place that was no place in which someone could set off a big bang. Who? Who knows?
You may take some comfort in the idea that there are realities, concepts beyond our comprehension. If there are some of those, there may be others. Like maybe a God. Could be. We wouldn’t comprehend it. But that’s okay. Clearly there was a time and space before time and space, and there will be time and space after time and space is done.
Into this no place, at no time, people entered. First as simpler life forms, but ultimately they became people, individuals each with their own beginning, their own end, and their own story in between.
The entire human species was born of this happy accident. We will all live our lives and, ultimately, there will be no more of us. The entire human race will end.
What will matter then?
Will anything we do here matter?
Does anything we do matter?
What Really Matters is What Really Matters to You!
What you’re feeling right now is probably paradox. There are really no absolutes. What matters to you will be different from what matters to me, or others. We each develop our own values based on what we see, hear, feel, and experience. Things come to matter to us innately, and others we need to think about.
What really matters to you is completely based upon what you want. What will satisfy, gratify, fulfill, and otherwise make you happy?
The first man to set foot on the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong is said to have observed that we all come into the world with a finite number of heartbeats ahead of us. Our job, suggested Armstrong, is to spend as many of those heartbeats as possible experiencing joy.
Buddha would agree. When he spoke of “living in the now” he advised that time spent examining and suffering about the past is wasted, since all the suffering will never change the past. It cannot be changed. Turning to the future he pointed out that we have no idea what the future will be. We could be killed in an instant, then all the worrying we did about the future would have been wasted.
Buddha advised that we stay in the now. Live in the now. Focus on what’s in front of us right at this very moment and do our best to enjoy it as fully as we possibly can, no matter what it is. Enjoy each moment while you have it, because it will never come again.
Now there’s a contribution that continues to benefit people down through the years!
Howard, I've been enjoying your blog and would like to say that what you do here matters. :)