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Thursday, February 15, 2007

What do you mean???

I was having a conversation with my friend, John Doyle, recently and he mentioned something to the effect that people don't seem to be concerned with finding meaning in life. By and large that seems true. How many people in this post-whatever world are really and truly searching for meaning?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs bascically makes the point that survival needs are foundational and as one meets these needs then we can worry about issues of meaning. In the States our (I am in the Gen-X category) Grandparents were worried about foundational, survival things. Our parents moved up a bit on the scale, but still wanted to go after as much stuff as possible. Many of us Gen-Xers are concerned with relational issues. Building community, peace, and living in harmony with our environment, etc. This is a search for meaning. But still, is it really a search for ultimate meaning?

Do we, in this post-something world search for an ultimate purpose in life? I don't think so. In fact, I think this in a rather emphatic way. Meaning is construed and created by me and for me.


Melody said...

How are you defining "ultimate meaning"? It's all well and good to say that community,peace,and enviromentalism aren't "ultimate meaning", but why not? And, what components would "ultimate meaning" have to have that would differentiate it from the aforementioned lesser meanings?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Right. I see your point. But I think there is a general sense that Gen-Xers and later generations don't seem to be very anxious to impose their meaning on someone else. In other words, we all pretty much tend to find a lot of meaning in building connections with others, but if someone is going to come along and say, "Hey, I'd rather make some big bucks and climb the corporate ladder," we would probably say, "Cool, man. Good luck with that!" and sincerely wish that person the best. And if someone said, "Dude, I just want to go backpacking in Europe and live by myself in the mountains for a few years" we would probably give that dude our blessing.

Generally speaking, then, I think as a whole the concept of "community" and "harmony" is important for its pragmatic value, i.e. it just works well for me in my situation. We might think it works well for most people, but if you've got a better idea of how to bring meaning to your life then, by all means, have at it. We aren't going to stop you and say, "Hold on that's not a meaningful thing." We would never do that because we don't believe that any one person can really dictate meaning for another person.

Each person must decide for themselves. "To each their own." "Live and let live." These are more than just cliches.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I think in addition to the general meaning found in "community" is also a tendancy for Gen-X and younger crowds to put a lot of stock in hobbies. Hobbies provide an outlet for very concentrated meaning. I think that's why we ask each other, "What are you into?" We are all "into" all kinds of different and diverse things: Music, blogging, mountain biking, tv shows, politics, fashion, movies, working out, reading novels, science, history, celbrity watching, philosophy, nutrition, the NFL, etc, etc. In this day and age one can be "into" whatever catches one's attention. Of course, we tend to be a bit ADD so we sometimes bounce around to different interests. And who can blame us? We've got a world of information at our fingertips.

Melody said...

I can kind of see the people determining "meaning" for themselves thing...but on the other hand...

For example, in pop-culture friends/relationships are definately portrayed as the most important aspect of a person's life.

I watched "The Devil Wears Prada" with my family...brief synopsis, girl goes to work for fashion mag and it is a consuming job. Her friends get mad at her for putting most of her time and energy into doing well at a job she hates. The unspoken under current is that if you're successful at the expense of relationships you are a bad person.

A couple weeks ago on House there's a brilliant kid with Gypsy parents who won't let him continue his education. One of the doctors tells him he could get an internship at the hospital and the kid turns it down because of his family and because he sees the dedicated and successful doctors and notes that there is no ring on their fingers...they are alone.
Blatent proclamation: family is more important than success or education.

If you watched RENT you know that the bad guy was the successful one...who abandoned his friends.

Of course part of this is the odd hollywood belief that if you are successful you are conservative and therefore don't care about people...but to a certain extent I do think this is reflective of the leanings of GenX on down...or vice versa.

I don't know about the hobbies thing...I've not noticed that...but then again, maybe I'm not paying attention.

Jonathan Erdman said...

The question I have is this: Are these examples you provide an attempt to teach a universal lesson? Or are they just providing case studies of how different people find meaning?

What about the other doctors who are driven to succeed, and as such have a really hard time finding lasting and meaningful relationships. They obviously find meaning in what they do as doctors. Is the show really saying that their lives are meaningless? Is that really the "lesson"? Or is the lesson a more subtle point that we all sacrifice meaning in certain areas of our lives in order to pursue some of the things that we find the most meaning in? Or perhaps we don't think it through so thoroughly because we are driven to succeed and so we find ourselves in our forties with a marriage or two under our belt and having to grapple with our inability to make a real relationship stick? So we just keep plugging away trying to squeeze drops of meaning from the turnip of life.

Or maybe there is a little bit of both messages: Meaningful relationships are what is most important, but dog-gone-it if the lot of us just can't seem to make it work out so well, so it is important to just find the most meaning you can in your particular situation.

Melody said...

Well, it depends on the show.
The Devil Wears Prada and RENT wear very obviously saying "This is bad. People who do this are heartless and wrong."

House is alot more open ended. The writers are pushing an agenda, but the point is more to consider what is more important than to say emphatically, "This is right."

I think there is also an element of playing to the masses. Most of us are not rich fashionistas, doctors, or business men. When we watch shows those things are shallow and meaningless it makes us feel like we have our priorities in line...rather than just that we are slackers.

Anyhow, the choosing meaning for ourselves bit totally comes from the fact that we're individualists (thank-goodness). But, if people aren't to decide for themselves what their purpose is, how do you propose they go about it?

ktismatics said...

As the token old fart, I must decry my own generation's abandonment of meaning. There was a sense of empowerment when I was in college about swaying public opinion against the Vietnam war. A lot of people experimented with alternative sources of meaning (including the Jesus Freaks, which I suppose included me). Black power, women's movement, sex/drugs/rock n' roll -- I thought something different would surely transpire. Alas, the grooves are deeply worn in American culture, and it's easier not to think about meaning when other rewards are easier to attain.

Jonathan Erdman said...

John Doyle grooves again

Never give up on the groove, John...never....