What’s the meaning of life? What principles should I live my life by?
Yep, let’s start with the easy questions today 😀
The Meaning of Life
What’s the meaning of life? There are perhaps as many ways to answer this question as there are people in the world. Here are just a few ways of answering…
Some might say it’s to decide for ourselves how we want to give meaning to our lives. This answer seems reasonable enough, but then it’s very easy to get lost in trying to decide how to add meaning to our lives. It’s a continually open question with ever-changing answers… it often doesn’t feel very satisfying. I’d rate this answer 6/10.
Some might say it’s to enjoy yourself as much as possible, maximising your short-term happiness and pleasure. Roughly speaking, that’s known as hedonism. Initially this approach seems quite appealing, but eventually you realise that chasing after good times comes with some pretty hefty costs. Often people find that the physical, mental and spiritual costs of enjoying yourself all the time are simply not worth it. People who follow this path often end up addicted, lonely and broke. I’d rate hedonism at 4/10.
Some might say life has no meaning; everything is meaningless. This is known as nihilism… and I think it’s very dangerous. On the surface, nihilism can seem quite appealing… it seems realistic in a sense. However it’s easy to go from nihilism into depression and suicide, or the destruction born from resentment, anger and bitterness. I’d say that nihilism is only one step away from hell. I’d rate it 1/10.
Some people advocate aiming for contentment. In other words, find ways to live where you’re trading off your short-term interests against your long-term ones. It’s quite a balanced approach and compromise is required. You accept that nothing in your life will be perfect, but you’re aiming to get all the important parts of your life good enough so that they at least feel acceptable to you. This is a very utilitarian approach – you’re looking to maximise utility (or benefit) for yourself and the people around you. I’d rate this 8/10, and it’s roughly how I try to live myself.
Systems of Ethics and Principles
How should we live our lives on a day-to-day basis?
One option might be to choose to be utterly selfish. We’d manipulate and use other people to maximise our own benefit. But I think being Machiavellian isn’t a particularly satisfying way to live. You might fool some people, but the chances of you having stable, reciprocal relationships with others is pretty low. If you don’t give a shit about anyone else, maybe that’s fine for you. But most people deeply value the trust they feel with friends and family. I’d rate selfishness as 1/10.
Maybe we could attempt to live ethically according to a particular religion’s doctrines, such as Christianity. I think this isn’t a bad start. It’s helpful for people who just want to be told what to do without having to sit and study, working out their own system of ethics. Religion definitely has its flaws, but overall I’d say it’s a force for good. At least most religious people are trying to do what they feel is right. I rate religion 7/10.
We can attempt to come up with our own system of morals and ethics, perhaps based in part on certain ancient spiritual or religious ideas, but adapted for modern times and with a hefty dose of rationality chucked in. I really like this approach – it’s how I try to live my own life. I’d rate this approach 9/10, and it’s what I strive for personally.
Which Spiritual Principles Should We Choose?
Great question! There doesn’t seem to be one definitive answer. Again, different people choose different starting points.
Religious people usually take the word of God (The Bible / Koran etc) as the ultimate resource in deciding what’s right or wrong. But there are many difficulties here. I think books like The Bible are meant to be interpreted, not taken literally. And there are many different ways of interpreting The Bible… hence all the different Christian denominations.
And then we have translation issues… how do we know that our translations in English are accurate to what the original authors intended?
And then we have the fact that ancient cultures can’t possibly have predicted what life in modern society would be like, with our smartphones and social media. Are we so sure our religious principles are still valid, bearing in mind they were created hundreds or thousands of years ago?
Truth / Love / Courage
Right now, I really like the spiritual system of Truth, Love and Courage invented by Richard Garriott and used in the Ultima series of videogames.
Richard performed considerable research into various real-world religions. He was looking for underlying principles.
The 8 Virtues
From the 3 principles of Truth, Love and Courage, Richard derived the 8 virtues.
In an interview with Computer Games Online, Richard Garriott revealed some things about how he developed the Eight Virtues for Ultima IV:
“I started with a whiteboard and wrote down all of the virtues and vices I could think of, the seven deadly sins, many, many others. Obviously I wanted to talk about a few of these, but I couldn’t address them all.”
“As I did more research, I began to notice things like greed and envy would have some overlap, so I needed to create a core set. You can easily split them up into virtues and vices, and eventually arrived at three primary aspects, which became the principle virtues of Truth, Love and Courage. Truth became Honesty, Love became Compassion, Courage became Valor, and I created the eight possible combinations of these three. Truth tempered by Love became Justice, Love and Courage became Personal Self-sacrifice, Courage and Truth became Chivalric Honor. Truth Love and Courage was kind of arbitrary, so I thought, “What is the all-encompassing virtue?” I said, “Spirituality,” whether or not you’re doing good or bad deeds in the world.”
“And what if you do none of the above? If not being virtuous is part of your psyche, I call it pride. Pride is not a virtue, so I decided to use the opposite, Humility. Since the eighth combination created a non-virtue, I began to create bits of pseudo-science I was pretty pleased with.”
“Ultimas are big in mathematical pseudo-science and alchemy, so I invented the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom to graphically illustrate their relationship. Then I associated the cities with the virtues, with the eighth one – which I called Magincia, the city of Pride – destroyed. Having these seven positive things with one eighth one that had to be flipped made for a nice variety of quests you could create.”
“Once the eight virtues were created, I needed to come up with quotes that expressed why each was important. And had to think of tests for people to see if they were supporting that virtue. Honesty was easy – I let you cheat shopkeepers and steal things, but the game kept a record where it could, later in the game, come back to haunt you. Just like the real world. Why is it you don’t steal from people? Because if you do they’ll throw you in jail or disown you. So that’s how I designed the game – people will reject you if you’re not honest.”
“So I went virtue by virtue and tried to craft these types of experiences.”From the Ultima Wiki: https://ultima.fandom.com/wiki/Eight_Virtues
Implementing the 8 Virtues
Here’s my rough stab at how I might choose to implement these 8 virtues in my day-to-day life…
Honesty is pure Truth. “Tell the truth… or at least don’t lie,” says Jordan Peterson in his 12 Rules. Trust is so fundamental to human relationships. I’ve promised my wife I will always tell her the truth; this strengthens the bond between us. A customer at work overpaid me by £10 the other day. I could easily have kept the money for myself, but I decided it was better to live according to my principles and I gave the money back.
Compassion is pure Love. It’s about helping others, especially those in greater need than you. I can be compassionate to others when I give them my time and attention. Simply listening to others is a form of compassion.
Valor is pure Courage. It’s often thought of in violent, militaristic terms. But there are plenty of ways we can be brave in modern life, even if you’re not engaged in combat. For example, I feel that facing up to difficult situations takes great Courage. Facing your own dragons voluntarily – that’s Courageous. Valor is also about being willing to explore different points of view and opinions.
Justice is Truth, tempered by Love. For me, it’s about setting healthy boundaries and sticking to them. It’s also about being prepared to face the consequences of my actions.
Sacrifice is the Courage to give of oneself in the name of Love. It’s about putting other people’s needs ahead of your own, at least some of the time. It’s about focussing on the greater good for all concerned, rather than just being selfish.
Honor is having the Courage to seek and uphold the Truth. Sometimes it takes great bravery to stand up for the Truth. This is about standing up for what we believe is right, even if it’s risky for ourselves. For me, honor means being proud of myself and my actions (in a good way).
Spirituality is to seek all of Truth, Love and Courage, both from oneself and from the world. It’s the sum totality of living ethically, according to a code of values. I am spiritual when I live in accordance to the 3 principles and 8 virtues.
Humility is the opposite of Pride – the absence of Truth, Love or Courage. We are humble when we accept that we don’t have all the answers. Being open-minded is a form of humility. We need to always accept the possibility that we might be wrong. We need to be aware of our own ego… and willing to put it to one side. I am humble by always being willing to learn.
Picking & Choosing
I’m not that keen on Honor or Justice, they seem like the weakest of the 8 virtues in terms of their usefulness for real life.
If I strip down Richard Garriott’s spiritual ideas to their bare essentials, I’d just have: Truth, Courage and Love, plus the virtue of Humility.
The other virtues seem a bit redundant as they’re just combinations of other virtues or ways of re-stating the 3 main principles.
Spiritual Principles in the 12 Steps
I was curious to see which spiritual principles crop up in my 12 Steps fellowship and how they might relate to the 8 virtues above…
- Open-mindedness. I think this is closely associated with the virtue of Humility. But it also seems linked to Honor – having the bravery and Courage to explore the Truth.
- Willingness. This is surely Valor – it’s about having the Courage to try out new ideas and behaviours even in the face of fear or doubt.
- Honesty. This is the same idea as in the 8 virtues… telling the truth even if it’s uncomfortable, not misleading ourselves or others.
(I may come back and update the list above as I learn more from the 12 Steps).
To summarise, I think it’s well worth each of us having a system of ethics and personal values. These can help us navigate life’s trickier episodes – help us choose between right and wrong.
When you’re deciding on which ethical ideas are important to you, there’s a huge variety of choices: religious, spiritual or even secular/humanistic.
Maybe it’s less important which system you choose, as long as you do choose one. It seems to me that evil (pride?) often comes from nihilism or an absence of solid beliefs.
So, don’t leave a hole in your soul which the devil can exploit! Fill yourself with goodness, however you define it!
Personally, my beliefs and values are always open to future revision. This is my way of trying to be humble.
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