What's important in life eludes you
In our modern societies, it would seem certain actions are more important than others. We have created a whole system of rewarding certain actions and punishing others, categories of acts which are admirable, and others which one should be ashamed of. To name but a few, just look at the fact of winning over someone else, being the best, or reaching a certain status, accumulating power and responsibility (or more often than not, more power and irresponsibility), money or in general, the fact of making a difference in the world with “objective” criteria to measure it (Nobel prizes, various honorary titles)…
I’m here to tell you that we have no clue. We can pretend that we know, but we really don’t. And this ties in directly with much deeper spiritual teachings and perspectives which look at our world beyond the “material”, taking the perspective of your Soul.
Of course, for all “non believers” or materialists, these esoteric woo woo talks might turn you off completely. But this idea is very basic and easy to understand. It’s simply that we have no way to monitor the full ramifications of our actions into the future, or test the ramifications of alternative courses of action in “parallel” Universes.
This is the main problem of counterfactuals which aim at modelling or simulating what would have happened IF you changed this or that variable in history. For instance, had Hitler been admitted to an art school, would World War II have happened nonetheless? And while these exercises can be interesting and intellectually stimulating, they fail to be accurate and objective (which are the requisites of the day, in our modern “science” driven societies).
The same applies to your life and the course of action you take. It is impossible to know what would have happened IF you choose one course of action instead of another, and especially, it is impossible to measure the impact of each and every one of your actions. What we tend to do in our societies is to shine a spotlight on the actions which are measurable not because they are objectively the “best” or have the most “positive impact”, but simply because they are measurable. That is the “bias” that a society built on materialism and objectivity brings: anything that cannot be objectively measured or monitored does not count, is ignored or disregarded.
So in other words, if you are a scientist and your “discovery” lead to the production of a more energy efficient battery for our smartphones, that will be recognized and valued by society at large, simply because it can be boiled down to a number. And then, thanks to that number, our society can also measure you against others which did something similar to see how high you rank against them. How many kilowatts per year did your discovery help save compared to other scientists working on other energy efficient technologies? The same reasoning applies to everything, like in sports where there is a continuous struggle to devise “objective” criteria for deciding which sportsman or women is “better” or best: the number of goals in a season, the number of successful passes, the number of shots on goal, the ratio between the number of minutes of possession of the ball and scoring a goal etc.
Now, let’s go radical in the other direction: the “butterfly effect”. In a sense, the effect of any and all actions reverberate into infinity. Just the mere fact that you are alive and breathing, any twitch of your hand or movement of your finger spawns an infinite chain reaction of causation. The butterfly effect is a fun concept to think about because it is impossible to know what the consequence of any of your actions could lead to. For instance, the fact that you cut off a person while walking one random day, infuriating them in the process, caused them to be 2.58 seconds delayed on their trajectory and not get run over by a careless motorcycle turning around a corner.
The point being that you have no idea or will ever have any idea of just how “meaningful” or important your actions are. It may just be that the person you cut off while walking is that very scientist which is about to have his major breakthrough on energy efficiency, and you cutting him/her off was by no means an insignificant action. The same can be applied to anything that “brilliant scientist” has experienced during his entire life: the kinds of teachers he/she had, the parents that raised him/her, the friends he/she had, none of which are necessarily linked to a conscious choice or something which you attribute merit to.
In essence, my point is that each and every one of us are intrinsically entangled in an infinite causal chain of actions and reactions which is beyond our control and understanding. There is nothing that you have achieved or done that can be separated from everything you have experienced and which brought you to that very point where you achieved it. And in this way, everything helps everything else, everything causes everything else from every single point in space and time. Any action, as insignificant as it may be, is related to everything that preceded and everything that follows into infinity. Scientists tend to ignore these things precisely because they are insignificant. For instance, there is no force which is null in the Universe. The very weight of your body exerts a force of gravity on the entire Universe. It is just that it is so incredibly small with so many zero behind the comma that no formula will acknowledge it. Unfortunately, if you add up each and every insignificant force in the Universe together, you get something very significant. To be more specific, you could say that the only accurate way to predict things in the Universe would be to individually map all the forces and interactions between each and every atom on all other atoms in the entire Universe. The good enough way to do it would be to just “lump” atoms together when they form a significant grouping like a black hole, a star and perhaps a planet, and do the math from there, ignoring all smaller “lumps” of atoms.
Coming back to concrete examples regarding our own lives and societies, this understanding can lift the pressure of performing off of our shoulders. Given the fact that we have no way to understand or know which one of our actions are important and which aren’t, we may as well just decide or choose for ourselves, which enables people to reclaim their sense of self-worth from the inside out, instead of the outside in.
Another bubble to bust may be the myth that action is more important than inaction. If you ask anyone what is more “important” from the societal point of view between spending the day in the park looking at clouds and working hard in a laboratory, most would not hesitate a second and pick the second one. But who is to tell? Again, can you truly explore the full scale ramifications of your actions into the future? For instance, by spending the day looking at the clouds and not going to work, you may have avoided making a fatal mistake in your vaccine research back at the lab because you were tired and aggravated after a bad night’s sleep, which would then lead to thousands of people dying of side-effects that you failed to identify due to your lackluster performance at work. Of course, you could object that this is unlikely thanks to many people being involved in the process, but again, no one can tell how a certain set of actions reverberate into the future. Just looking at major disasters like the September 9/11 terrorist attacks, what lead to the ability of these terrorists to take control of the planes were tiny insignificant imperfections in airport security or failures to investigate certain leads etc. And all of those little insignificant mishaps leads to one major event. The same applies across the board. And so when you see someone laying around all day doing seemingly “nothing”, refrain from judging and just imagine what horrible things they could be doing if they were doing “something”, because ultimately you have no idea or clue of what that “something” could be. To go even further, perhaps the only reason for your existence, was to cut-off that scientist in the street and making sure he/she didn’t get run over, and all the rest in your life was for free, was a gift, was for you to do with it whatever you wanted, whatever brought YOU joy and meaning. And of course, you can “play” and pretend that whatever you were doing besides that one determining moment is “important” in the eyes of others, but you could also just decide to do whatever the hell you want!
The take-away from all of this is not to go radical and throw away all validation methods that we have developed in our modern societies, but rather to start from the premise that everyone has an importance, an intrinsic value that is inestimable, regardless of what they “do” and that the external validations are a “plus”, a “bonus”, like a cherry on the cake, in order to give that feeling of being intrinsically valuable a little boost. Instead of doing whatever you do in the hope of being one day “officially” acknowledged as being important, start from the premise that whatever you’re doing is important, and getting the “official” recognition is just something you can do for “fun”, if that’s what you’re after. There is no longer this sense of urgency, of pressure of performing, just the conscious choice of going after that because you want to, and not because you are “forced” or brainwashed into chasing after it.
To conclude, it’s perhaps worth repeating what has already been said many times over: go after what makes you “feel” good, where YOU feel as if you’re making a difference, because ultimately, the mere fact that we are equipped with intuition and gut feeling, with emotions and a way to identify what “feels” right to us, what we love doing, that ability may be OUR built in mechanism for navigating inside this infinitely complex entangled causal chain yielding to the “best” possible outcome for us, and everyone else.
The point of this article is to learn to let go of what has to happen or should happen, because ultimately, the complexity of the entanglement of all of our daily actions is such that there is no telling what should happen (defining what is important). The only thing we can be sure of is how we feel when we do something. And if something feels right, then that should be reward enough, regardless of what it actually achieves in our limited perceived reality.
To finish, a little anecdote: a few weeks ago, a guy contacted me on Facebook and asked me if I was the one that composed a crappy remix of a Dragon Ball Z theme song some 15 years ago. Indeed, I was the one, and he told me that he was a great fan and that that song got him through some rough teenage years. When I composed it, I did it for fun, completely oblivious as to where it would land, who would listen to it, how it would affect them, I just did what I loved. And that was enough. This guy contacted me, so I received proof that I made a difference. But if you have to wait 15 years to get proof that whatever you did was actually meaningful and that you are worthy and important, then you’ll be miserable your entire life. It’s best to start from the premise that whatever you do, when it brings you joy and meaning right there and then is exactly what you should be doing and is worthy and important, and that you deserve Love all the time, always, instead of hating yourself because you are “not enough” according to whatever societal standard you believe in or abide by.