Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's In The Questions?


In the process of searching for a new focus (goals in life), it is almost inevitable that the "big" questions will creep in. There is pressure from pseudo-philosophers everywhere to cast aside the impertinent and answer the eternal. Two popular examples are "What is the meaning of life?" and "What is the point of it all?" There are many more, ranging from the introspective to the ontological, but I have one answer for almost all of them—I don't answer them at all.

I am 100% convinced that most big questions we feel compelled to face—handed down through centuries of overthinking and mis-translation—use terms so undefined as to make attempting to answer them a complete waste of time. This isn't depressing. It's liberating.

Consider the question of questions: What is the meaning of life? If pressed, I have but one response: It is the characteristic state or condition of a living organism. "But that's just a definition," the questioner will retort, "that's not what I mean at all." What do you mean, then? Until the question is clear—each term in it defined—there is no point in answering it. The "meaning" of "life" question is unanswerable without further elaboration.

Before spending time on a stress-inducing question, big or otherwise, ensure that the answer is "yes" to the following two questions:
1. Have I decided on a single meaning for each term in this question?
2. Can an answer to this question be acted upon to improve things?

"What is the meaning of life?" fails the first and thus the second.

Questions about things beyond your sphere of influence like "What if the train is late tomorrow?" fail the second and should thus be ignored. These are not worthwhile questions. If you can't define it or act upon it, forget it.

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