Monday, September 1, 2008

Who am I and why am I here?

It was a mere sixteen years ago that the imortal words, "Who am I and why am I here?" were uttered by Admiral Stockdale, Ross Perot's running mate in his Vice Presidential debate with Al Gore and Dan Quayle. The quote earned Stockdale an ill deserved spot on Saturday Night Live where he was mercilessly parodied.

No, this is not a conversation about Vice Presidential nominees, however tempting that might be especially in light of what perhaps appears to be developing as Senator McCain's "Eagleton Moment." Eagleton of course refers to the sequence of events thirty-six years ago when George McGovern's ill fated choice of Tom Eagleton as his running mate effectively destroyed any hope McGovern might have had to win the Presidency. Is this a--not quite--instant "Palin Replay" of the Eagleton fiasco? For the record, The Rainmaker believes that Ms. Palin will ultimately be a net positive to the McCain campaign.

But all this is merely a digression and a distraction.

Actually Stockdale's bungled opening line is the ultimate question each of us faces in our life, "Who am I and why am I here?"

Are we merely a fluke of the Universe? Or is there some significant purpose to our life? Honestly, most of us don't know. Those of us to think we know can't really be sure until that "turn out the lights, the party is over..." moment when we breathe our last breath.

"Who am I and why am I here?" In that context, it's really a pretty good question. Perhaps it really is the ultimate question.

In Douglass Adams' "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy," the "ultimate" question was submitted to "the" super computer that chugged and calculated away until the answer, "42" was delivered. But, the actual "ultimate" question was unknown and perhaps unknowable so the answer "42" is essentially meaningless. Obviously the underlying or "ultimate" question is very important.

Whatever the question was that resulted in the answer "42," it surely was not, "Who am I and why am I here?"

So, what is the answer to the question: "Who am I and why am I here?" Each of us spends a lifetime finding out. But the answer isn't always the same when we ask the question over time.

Actually as we pass through a lifetime of experiences, the answers are typically pretty pedestrian and not at all profound. We seem to take refuge in the superficial external characteristics of our lives to answer this ultimate question, "Who am I and why am I here?"

As a child we answer that question by saying, "I am my parent's daughter or son, here to either please or rebel."

As a teen we are what apparently what we see in the mirror. We are a thug or a geek or a nerd or a scholar, an athelete, a cheer leader or a confused, zit covered kid. Most of us are the last most of the time. We are ultimately all about self gratification at that stage of our lives.

As a young adult we are an extension of our group. Perhaps we are a soldier, or a college student , a member of a sports team, an accountant, a truck driver, a cowboy, an activist, a farmer or even a competitor in a beauty contest. We seek to attain status within the context of the group.

Eventually most of us are defined or define ourselves by our families, our jobs, our positions and how much money we have. Some of us assume the identity of an organization, perhaps a religious, advocacy, political, corporate, labor, national or ethnic group. We strive to support and advance the interests of our families, our companies, our nation or our world.

Ultimately at the end of our lives we leave this world with exactly what we brought to this world, ourselves. Then ultimately we finally come to define, whether we want to or not, the answer to the qusetions, "Who am I and why am I here?" What exactly is my "self?"

We recognize at some point that we are defining who we are and why we are in what are actually pretty superficial measures of our selves. Most of these definitions are externally measured and really have nothing to do with who we really are or why we are really here. Who is the "I" who my Mother delivers into the world? Who is the "I" who breaths my last breath? Is it the same "I?" Why did "I" experience all of that over the course of my life?

Or, is there ever even really an "I?" Perhaps the Buddah is right and the "real world" is all an illusion..."Maya." But what if "I" am also an illusion?

Now that is something to think about.

1 comment:

jdc1958 said...

There is a responsibility that comes with intelligence to manage the environment and protect those species who share the environment with us in order to maintain a balance that existed before we were here.

Our particular species has taken our intelligence as a sign of Devine gift. The Bible starts with a sure sign of our arrogance and self promotion “…and God created man in his image”, please, this is highly unlikely given what we know about the variable conditions on the many planets that can/may harbor life.

Further, our intelligence has caused a fear of death. We cannot be the supreme rulers of Earth and accept the fact that like all other living things here, we enjoy a particular lifespan. So we invented religions and gods who would somehow help us explain those things we could not explain, chief of which is life and death.

At this point in time, we are all lucky to have our particular moments in the sun. As a species we have advanced rapidly in our understanding of life, the physics of the universe, and the environment in which we live. At this point we should recognize the immensity of the neighborhood in which we live “our” Milky Way, and the incomprehensible frontier that lies beyond.

To think for even a moment that some being or some force has a plan for each of us is, in my opinion, simply an extension of the first failed premise that God created us in his image. This man feels that there is simply a social and moral responsibility we each have to better the ground on which we walked and to try to better those around us. Beyond that there is little each of us can do, unless by sheer luck of time and position, to effect much more than that. Simply put, we are merely sentient animals on this planet, and to elevate ourselves to the level of least fear, we have invented a self worth beyond reason. The best we can do is lead constructive lives and try to leave our home better than we found it. When that job is done, we are simply over…but not quite, we do still provide a modicum of fertilizer for something else.

There is no Devine purpose, there is no heaven or hell, there are no consequences beyond what we do and the responsibility we take as a result. We answer to ourselves and to the environment that contains us….and that’s just all there is, when the game is over, it is simply over. Why is that so hard to reconcile?

We have feared those things which we can’t explain since we were able to think. We have invented a series of super beings who know the answers…man has invented god over and over and over again in an effort to outrun the unknown…but death is the answer we can not know, and thus it gets the supreme spotlight. If we took our fear of death out of the divinity equation, we would not be left with much to worship.

Let it all go. Accept that we are simply here for a moment and then gone. Do the best you can to cause more good than harm, and be at peace with that.

And that is my opinion, and I’m sticking to it!