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An Essay on Meaning and Fulfillment

An opinion piece by Nicholas Anakwue – Lagos, Nigeria

We all search for relevance, purpose, vision, constancy; we live our lives seeking something that may sum up all the aches and nausea of everyday struggle and eking out a living - meaning. Without meaning, we are lost, barreling through time and the constrictions of space like a falling feather that is undecided about reaching the ground soon and doing so at a given spot. With the stark reality of pandemic that the world is grappling with at the moment, the monotony of living has become even more pronounced. People are locked up in their homes, away from the diverse experiences that the pre-pandemic situation had offered us. With the separation from public life, many persons are beginning to feel the psychological effects of a lack of social relations. These relations, in themselves, offered a purpose to living and working, each day, without which, life would be quite uninteresting. Like Jean-Paul Sartre opines, purpose and meaning is the basic, undeniable goal of humanity's existence. Without a sense of purpose, activities become tedious and uninspiring.

The daily grind is a vivid example of the vicious circle of the sometimes boringly familiar. Wake up, say a prayer or two, hurry off into the sea of traffic, bury our heads in piles of work and occupations, dive back into the sea of evening traffic and the blare of horns and headlights, sup with family and the TV set telling of the day's offerings of the good, the bad and the ugly, and retire to bed dreaming of payday and promotion. And the next day, we take the same course yet again, punctuated some days by the smile and chatter of friendly meet-ups.

One could easily get wrapped up in this unconscious stream of events and lose one’s sense of purpose. This is sometimes what causes the increased cases of suicidal attempts and depression. But how do we go from here? How do we satisfy that infinite longing of our hearts to find purpose and meaning amidst the monotony of events?

That answer is through questioning. Questioning, Stephen Hawking says, has always had its reason for existing. Like Simon Sinek points out in one of his insightful lectures on purpose and meaning, the question, why?, always helps us to find our bearing. Finding out why we do what we do, is like following the needles of a compass, and finding our true north. Many may know what to do, and how to do what they do, but why they do what they do, is a whole new depth of understanding that liberates the seeker after truth. Socrates teaches that by questioning, we arrive at answers to questions that we hitherto thought we knew not of. Invariably, saying that we all possess the answers to the questions dearest to our hearts. We possess answers to our questions of purpose and meaning. And we can only get those answers by asking more questions. Amazing!

But it is here we must be wary of the various pitfalls on the road towards this truth of our being. Questioning is for the sake of truth, not opinion, for the grandeur of reality, not mirages, for the direction of purpose and not flagrant showmanship. Questioning, and consequently, the arrival at the truth, brings life to the everyday activities that we do. Since we do them with purpose, we do them better, and more effectively. This is because we are imbued with zeal and resolve to accomplish them. They lose the lackluster appeal that they formally had. We can work at it relentlessly, because we are pumped up by a deep realization of its worth, of our own worth in the entire schema of things.

We need such critical reflection and appreciation of life, in our daily activities, our work, our careers, and in the pursuit of our individual and collective goals. Silicon Valley is taking a cue from this by employing experts to assist their workforce in finding a united purpose to the general work that they do. One of such experts, Andrew Taggart is renowned for his concept of ‘total work’, making work an expression of being. We have to be open to building societies that are more concerned about the purpose of things, than the value and production of these things. When we find our place in a broader scheme of things, it becomes easier to weed off the despondency that can come with monotony.

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