Question: What do you live for?

Answer: I live to make the world a better place.

One of my favorite things about David is that he doesn’t suffer ‘theoretical bullshitting.’ When he asks me about my belief system, values, or ethics, he expects more than a free-floating theory of good feeling. He wants to understand my thought process and how it affects my actions from day to day. This forces me to intentionally consider the things I claim to believe, and articulate them in precise language. The other night David had me rehash this exercise on the topic of my life purpose. “What do you live for?” he asked, “What makes you want to do good?”

Religion is not a motivating factor for me, and I’m dubious of both the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell.  Setting aside the possibility of otherworldly repercussions, however, I still strive to be the best person I know how to be, and to act in ways that make the world better. Social activism is very important to me. I want a law degree so I can champion the civil rights of Americans through the legislative system. I want to be a journalist so that I can make people aware of destructive societal systems and their role in them. My “Heroes” board on Pinterest sports images of Angelina Grimké and Theodore Dwight Weld, Nellie Bly, Mr. Rogers, and Fred Hampton, and I dream one day of being worthy of their company. For now I recycle and patron thrift stores. David’s question about my life choices boiled down to ‘why?’ Why should I care so much if I don’t expect a reward and I don’t fear punishment?

My best answer is that I believe in the human experiment. By this I mean, I believe in the worthwhile nature of the human endeavor to better itself. With each new generation we try new formulas for successful societies, for peace, for happiness. There are still many things wrong with the world, and as a species we certainly don’t have a glowing track record, but the mean quality of human life has steadily improved. Robert Cailliau (and his colleagues at CERN) gave us the internet. Henrietta Lacks and Edward Jenner revolutionized modern medical research and treatment, and now we’re slowly inoculating ourselves against the multiform strains of racism, sexism, and other types of isms that promote false superiority. This gift of consciousness grants me the opportunity to join humanity in our asymptotic pursuit of perfection.

It is not enough to survive, I want humanity to be a species deserving of survival. I want us to be the kinds of creatures that make the universe a better place, that add to its beauty, and that requires we strive to make ourselves more beautiful. So I live to help mankind towards greater beauty. Doing my part to improve the state of humanity is not a job, it is a privilege.


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