I think the whole philosophical school of ethics serves but one purpose — to tell use how to live our lives. Most religions do it too, at some level, and define what morality is. These prescriptions and teachings always bothered me a little. Why should I let anybody else decide for me what is good and what is not? And, by the same token, how can I tell you these things?
Despite such reservations, I decided to write this post on how to live your life — after all, this is my blog, and I can post anything I want. So today, I will talk about how to lead a good life. The first thing to do is to define what “good” is. What do we mean when we call something good? We clearly refer to different attributes by the same word when we apply it to different persons or objects, which is why a good girl is very different from a good lay. One “good” refers to morality while the other, to performance in some sense. When applied to something already nebulous such as life, “good” can mean practically anything. In that sense, defining the word good in the context of life is the same as defining how to lead a good life. Let’s try a few potential definitions of a good life.
Let’s first think of life as a race — a race to amass material wealth because this view enjoys a certain currency in these troubled times that we live in. This view, it must be said, is only a passing fad, no matter how entrenched it looks right now. It was only about fifty years ago that a whole hippie generation rebelled against another entrenched drive for material comforts of the previous generation. In the hazy years that followed, the materialistic view bounced back with a vengeance and took us all hostage. After its culmination in the obscenities of the Madoffs and the Stanfords, and the countless, less harmful parasites of their kind, we are perhaps at the beginning stages of another pendulum swing. This post is perhaps a reflection of this swing.
The trouble with a race-like, competitive or combative view of life is that the victory always seems empty to the victors and bitter to the vanquished. It really is not about winning at all, which is why the Olympian sprinter who busted up his knee halfway through the race hobbled on with his dad’s help (and why it moved those who watched the race). The same reason why we read and quote the Charge of the Light Brigade. It was never about winning. And there is a deep reason behind why a fitting paradigm of life cannot be that a race, which is that life is ultimately an unwinnable race. If the purpose of life is to live a little longer (as evolutionary biology teaches us), we will all fail when we die. With the trials and tribulations of life volleying and thundering all around us, we still ride on, without reasoning why, on to our certain end. Faced with such a fundamental and inevitable defeat, our life just cannot be about winning.
We might then think that it is some kind of glory that we are or should be after. If a life leads to glory during or after death, it perhaps is (or was) a good life. Glory doesn’t have to be a public, popular glory as that of a politician or a celebrity; it could be a small personal glory, as in the good memories we leave behind in those dear to us.
What will make a life worthy of being remembered? Where does the glory come from? For wherever it is, that is what would make a life a good life. I think the answer lies in the quality with which we do the little things in life. The perfection in big things will then follow. How do you paint a perfect picture? Easy, just be perfect first and then paint anything. And how do you live a perfect life? Easy again. Just be perfect in everything, especially the little things, that you do. For life is nothing but the series of little things that you do now, now and now.