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Basic Questions

Since he died, I find myself asking the same question each morning when I awake. “What’s the point of getting up?  Where do I now find my meaning and purpose in life?”  Up until now I was the wind beneath his wings as he was mine.  Now that he is gone, I am faced with finding a new center, a new reason for living.  Just as nothing comes without important lessons and insights, his death is helping me understand why people who have no meaning or purpose in life fill their hours with meaningless activity, partying, gambling, and drinking ones’ self silly.  

Maslow suggested there are five levels of  human need and development.  Starting with the most basic and moving upwards these needs are: food, clothing, shelter, safety  and job security needs, love and belonging needs, esteem and respect needs, and self-actualization needs.  For most of history,  people, by necessity, focused on the first two levels: food, clothing, shelter and safety.  As much as we consider love and belonging as essential, even those take the back seat when one is homeless, hungry, and unsafe.  

For most of human history,  mankind has been focused on the first two or three stages.  The question of an ultimate meaning and purpose in life beyond survival was not even considered.  While love and belonging seem pretty basic to most of us, it is our human drive to arrange ourselves in safe tribal or family groupings that open the way for experiencing love and friendship.    After all, it is only within cohesive cooperative groupings that our physical,  safety, and belonging needs can truly be met.  However, by its very nature, the cohesion required to have tribal and extended family groupings provide for and protect individual needs,  the welfare of the group must take precedent over the individual.  Consequently, almost all religious teaching focuses on care of the other and the “beloved community” to use Martin Luther King’s phrase.   Our legal, moral, and familial codes all reflect on that which is best for the larger group. Think The Ten Commandments, the Great Commandment, The Golden Rule, for instance. 

In the past two hundred or so years humanity has moved from communal agrarian societies to industrialized societies that stress individual achievement and freedom.  This is both good news and bad. The good news is that our individualism allows for individual differentiation;  women’s rights, gay rights, trans rights, racial rights, artistic expression, etc.  The bad news is our focus on individual freedom makes us less concerned about the needs of  others.  Individualism leads to materialism, greed,  and selfishness, disregard for the rights and needs of others, ignoring the ways our individual choices impact others.  If you doubt this just think pandemic and our conflicts over social distancing, vaccines, and wearing masks.  Add to that our racial  conflicts and the abuses of power.  Our individualism also makes us less concerned about broader issues that affect the whole of society such as climate change, voting rights, racism, extreme financial inequity, etc.

Just as the substance abuser or other addictions cannot move toward recovery until he/she recognizes that their choices are having a negative impact on themselves and others, so I am beginning to recognize that my waking to an empty house is forcing me to evaluate my hierarchy of needs.  Being among the world’s fortunate,  the first three levels of need are being more than adequately met.  My challenge,  however,  relates to self- actualization…finding finding my new place in the world as I shift focus.  What is my unique place in the world now?  What do I still have to contribute to the welfare of others?  What will enrich my last years as well as those around me?  How do I identify my end of life passions?  What role will faith play in bringing me a new sense of meaning and purpose?

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