Saturday, November 7, 2009

Existential Challenges to Meaning in Life

In creating our lives, in writing our life stories, we all face FOUR unavoidable Challenges. These Existential Problems have to be addressed as we attempt to establish and maintain MEANING and PURPOSE to guide us in living our lives. Our culture may provide ways of meeting these challenges which may be satisfactory to us individually-- either completely, partially, or not at all.

In writing our own life story, we have to address these Existential Challenges, whether the solutions come to us directly from our culture or we generate meaningful solutions for ourselves.

The four challenges to meaning that are part of every Human Being's Existence are:

1. DEATH. The most central and powerful challenge. We are the only form of life that we know about that has awareness that our life as lived on the earth will come to an end. How can Life be meaningful if we are going to die?

2. ALONENESS. Challenges meaningfulness because we are biologically social creatures and our societies are more and more interdependent. We each have an internal world that is unique, only directly experienciable by ourselves, never fully able to be put into words and never fully understandable by anyone else. Yet we are bioloigcally social creatures, born dependent on other people for our survival as infants and children. And we live in a world where we remain interdependent on our fellow human beings for our survival. Moreover our biology creates a yearning for emotional and physical connection with others. We are subject to deep feelings of Loneliness. How can life be meaningful if we are ultimately alone?

3. POWERLESSNESS. Human existence has meaning only if we believe that our actions effect the outcomes in our lives. Yet, we are clearly powerless over many of the forces that greatly effect our lives. We are thrown into the world with certain abilities and limitations, we are born into a place--family, social setting-- that we do not choose and that may or may not meet our needs. Events happen in our lives that we cannot control--natural disasters, social changes and disasters, bodily events, death itself. We are powerless in many things, but making responsible choices and exerting our will can make a difference. We need to believe that we have free will even though we can only influuence outcomes, not control them. How can life be meaingful when so much is outside of our control?

4. Meaninglessness. The world as we experience it is often not understandable. Events may seem to unfold out of chaos, things happening randomly or only by chance. At other times we may experience the world as goverened by fixed natural, scientifc laws that are indifferent to our individual wants and desires, our invidivdual merits. We may expeience the world as unfair, irrational, even absurd. How can life be meaningful if the world we live often appears meaningless?

As we write our life stories, we have to address the Existential challenges so that we experience life as meaningful. Then we can define our purposes and goals, we can make responsible choices, we can can act in ways that make sense to us.

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