Philosophy Monday (4).

By Revival Ojedapo.

Continuing our philosophy series on “human nature and the human condition”, these are five more questions, culled from:

16. What actions in your life will have the longest reaching consequences? How long will those effects be felt?

We take countless actions daily in order to fulfil our ambitions or conform with society. Every now and then, we tend to look back on these actions. We end up coming up with a list of decisions that have shaped our career, or marital life.

People usually credit their successful lives to a string of beneficial habits such as good sleep, good diet, number of books read, meditation and the likes.

These are actions they consider invaluable in their success stories. And when tales are told of less successful people, it is often assumed that they have disregarded one or more of these habits. But, success can be a subjective thing, or most times, can be oversimplified to mean riches. It will be more appropriate to approach the question in terms of influence. That is, how much do our actions affect others. This, I believe, is the longest reaching consequences of any action; because it will most likely create a long chain of reaction, that will come back to give meaning to one’s life.

This comes with the realization that every action counts, the little ones as much as the big. Our decisions may be defined as good or bad when they become actionable. As C.S Lewis wrote: “good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of.

An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible”. Therefore, we ought to consider every action, no matter how little, as having long reaching consequences. Then, depending on our career path, we can highlight some actions that have been invaluable.

17. How long will you be remembered after you die?

It’s the impacts we make that will keep our names etched in history. People will talk about the way you’ve shaped the world in your own little way. People study Plato today, and they recall his works, and praise him for it too. But, is this the same as remembering him? Shouldn’t remembrance be something more personal? A fond memory of someone we’ve lost.
We must accept the fact that the fond memory of us will only be held dear by those we’ve touched personally during our life time.

These are the people around us, family and friends. And they can keep this memory for as long as they live, and even pass bits of it unto the next generation. However, if you put your heart into your work, you can also leave a bit of yourself in the mind of those who may never meet you. They also may feel a personal attachment to you, and hold on to the dear memory of whom they believe you to be.

18. If a child somehow survived and grew up in the wilderness without any human contact, how “human” would they be without the influence of society and culture?

As intriguing as the question may seem, it is one of grim imagination. We don’t want to imagine a child growing up in such condition, because we know what loneliness and social isolation can do to a person. It brings to mind the peculiar case of Genie, the feral child, who, through the 60s, was isolated by her deranged father since she barely a year old. Rarely spoken to, malnourished and deprived of human contact, she would later be rescued after 13 years of serious deprivation. And the question then was posed, how “human” was she, after all those years.

In an attempt to answer it, scientists, linguists and psychologists took turn at examining her. It was discovered that she could string two or three words together, but never could master grammar. Her acknowledgement and expression of affection were limited to nonverbal communication. However, she never really found a stable home, and was finally cut off from public attention.

It turns out that such experiments are forbidden, even when some unfortunate event provides us with a case study. Harlan Lee said about her case: “there’s an ethical dilemma in this kind of research. If you want to do rigorous science, then Genie’s interests are going to come second some of the time. If you only care about helping Genie, then you wouldn’t do a lot of the scientific research”.

Likewise, I don’t see how we can seek an answer to the above question and not lose a part of our own humanity. Genie’s father committed suicide after he was caught for his heinous crimes. He left a note behind with the words, “the world will never understand”. Perhaps, the answer to this question lies somewhere within those lines.

19. How would humanity change if all humans’ life expectancy was significantly increased (let’s say to around 500 years)?

In order to picture an appropriate image, we might need to set some conditions. First of all, we should like to imagine that ageing process will slow to match the 500 years. Also, there would be laws to curb pregnancy and births. And the body would be proportionally immune to disease. Without these conditions, we’d just have more drab and morbid years added on. But, would humanity be any better if we had all those years, with the appropriate conditions?

One would imagine that people will have more time to achieve their goals. People who, otherwise would have died with their works unfinished, will get the chance to be fulfilled. More barriers should be crossed in the arts and sciences. However, this supposition is not flawless. If we consider our present life expectancy, we’ll discover that most people underachieve, not because they don’t have enough time. It is rather as a result of our tendency not to make the most of the time we have. Thus, more time may create a sense of indolence in most people. Consider what William Penn said, “time is what we want most, but… what we use worst”.

Civilization will surely evolve and we’ll be lucky to witness several changes. For the first few generations, there would be some serious adjustments to make. In the economic sector, production and services will be immensely affected, depending on how we partition the ages for labour force. You can also imagine the socio-political environment going through a big transformation. With those additional years, however, we’d be able to witness the climate changes, and adjust the way we impact nature.

20. Where do you find meaning in your life?

It is important to restate that the meaning of life isn’t be goal in itself, rather, it would come as a result of other things we devote our lives to (check question 3). Even so, we don’t want to live with the risk of missing out on the purpose of our lives.  Hence the question, where do you find meaning?

Let’s reflect on what Pablo Picasso said: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away”. Through this simple transaction, we find our purpose in life. That’s why we render services through our careers. It is in our service to others that we find meaning in our own lives. Therefore, it is important that we discover ourselves, and our talent; and do what we can to help others.

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