Monday, March 24, 2008

Sharing our life experience

Today is Easter Sunday, the most important religious feast in Christendom. As a reflection, this can also be a good day to think about secular humanist principles. In the human history, another major secular system in human civilization is the Confucianism. Confucius answered the question of the purpose of life and the responsibility of life by placing each individual in a huge hieratical social network. Thus, the purpose and responsibility of life is to play your role, and play your role well for your position. As I said, the purpose of life in our secular humanist view is to pursue happiness, to live a happy life. This can be called the principle number one of secular humanism. Here, I propose the principle number two of the secular humanism, that is: “the responsibility of life is to experience your life fully and positively, and share your life experience with other fellow human being, and contribute your life experience to the human experience as a whole”. Now, let me explain why we need this principle number two.

If the principle number one is focused on our individual right, our own personal pursue of happiness, then principle number two is more concerned about our role in this society, thus our responsibility of life. In this sense, it resembles the principle of Confucianism. It puts us in the network of a society. Why we need to emphasize our social role? The final goal is to make our individual selves happy.

As we said before, one way to avoid the empty feeling toward death is to merge ourselves into the society, and to share our experience with others, and feel other people’s experience as part of our own, and to consider ourselves as part of the whole human being. The essence of our existence is our experience in this life. The sum and interaction of our individual experiences is the whole human experience. By considering our individual experience as part of the whole, we can anchor our small existence to a bigger one. As a result, we can sense a continuation of life. I know, after I die, the world will still exist, and the whole human experience, in which I am part of it, will still exist. This is much the same as I go to sleep, I know today’s me will disappear, but tomorrow’s me will be there. I thus go to bed with a comforting assurance. By the same token, if we really feel other people’s existence/experience is part of our own, then knowing other people will still be there after we die will make comfort to our heart. This is why we like to make a focus on our connection to the society at large, and to place ourselves in a bigger perspective.

Secondly, we use the word responsibility, instead of individual right (as in the principle number one). This responsibility is much like the responsibility of Confucianism, to play your role well. Why responsibility? This is to fit into our human psychic. Perhaps, as a result of our evolution, we like some kind of clear cut responsibility and task. In practice, that means, if I finished my task, then I am done, and I don’t need to worry about it any more. That gives us a sense of “ought”, and give us a guidance of what to do in life. It also provides a moral basis for what is right, what is wrong. Fulfilling our responsibility is thus “right”, which makes us feel good, certain, solid and sound. Responsibility is defined in relation with other people. It has a social meaning. The principle number one “to pursue happiness” is purely regarding to our private and individual behaviors, while the principle number two “to contribute to the human experience as a whole” deals with our relationship to the society. Again, this is much like Confucianism deals with our individual existence to the society’s existence. Deep in our heart, if we only deal with our own existence and happiness, and if we also know our individual existence is finite (and actually very short), we will have an unsettled feeling. To get rid of such unsettled feeling and to keep absolute individualism, Christian has invented the ever lasting life, and a direct relationship between me and the God. So, even there, I am not alone, there is also a God. Besides, I will exist forever. Thus, if we get rid of these facts (no God, no eternal life), what we should do to settle our uneasy feeling toward our death and finite existence? The answer is to anchor ourselves to the society. This is done in Confucianism. However, we also like to combine this relationship (and responsibility) with our pursue of happiness, thus this relationship becomes: contribute to our individual experience to the whole experience. In order to contribute it in a good way, we should first have a positive and happy experience of our own individual life.

One problem of Confucianism is the over emphasize of a fixed role, and at the end, it becomes a way to suppress individualism and our personal happiness. In many cases, it becomes a conflict (opposition) between our individual happiness and the interest of the whole society. To avoid that, here we emphasize that, the relationship between the individual and the society is a contribution of our individual to the society. The things we contribute is nothing else, but our own life experience. So, in order to have a good contribution, we first need to live a happy life, to satisfy our own individual needs and desires. The only additional task besides the principle number one, is to share our experience with our fellow human being (in that way, you have contributed to the society as a whole). There is no fixed role as in Confucianism. There are many ways to share and contribute. Publishing a book is sharing, talking to other people is sharing, having an intimate relationship with the person you love is also sharing. The only requirement is to open yourself up, to other people, to the society. Don’t be afraid of close relationship with others. This sharing and contribution can be done in an individually pleasant way. In a sense, this desire to share is probably also built in our human nature through evolution. As a society, we should encourage more flexible and intimate relationships, to facilitate this sharing.
Our responsibility is to live well and share that with other people. Living well is relative, based on our individual conditions. As long as we make the best of our situations, that should qualify as living well. Doesn’t matter how long we lived, and whether we are extraordinary during our life, as long as we have lived fully during our finite life, that should be enough. Thus, everyone, regardless of their conditions, can live well, can fulfill their life responsibility, and thus can die peacefully, and happily.

The essence of our existence is our experience, and the experience occurs at this moment, at now. As long as we live well now, and share that with other people, then not only we are worthy of ourselves, we are also worthy of the whole society. We can die peacefully, because our experience has been shared by other people, and they are part of us, and we are part of them.

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