My personal code for life

This is my personal code for life.  It’s a bunch of obvious things that most people already know.  I am sure I’ve missed some significant things, but I still like it:

  • Anything that leads to love is good. Anything that leads away from it is not.
  • I claim the god-given right to be imperfect.  I also claim the inherent right to have “issues.”  I recognize that everyone else has the exact same rights.
  • I cannot control other people and if I try to do so, I will make both them and me miserable. I do have the right to set boundaries for the treatment I will accept from them. It is my responsibility to communicate those boundaries to them. I have the inherent right to disassociate myself from them if they refuse to honor those boundaries. If someone still tries to hurt me, I can seek out appropriate protection.
  • The universal golden rule still applies: treat others the way you want to be treated. It is wrong to harm others. Allowing someone else to come to harm through inaction is also wrong. And one way we cause harm through inaction is choosing to remain ignorant of the harm we cause to others.
  • It is also wrong to cause harm to ourselves, through action or inaction.
  • I am never responsible for another person’s behavior, but I am responsible for the temptations I create for them. I will inevitably tempt others to be angry, to lash out, to be jealous, to seek revenge, etc., but if I choose to ignore the temptations I create for others I am harming them through inaction.
  • I have the right to decide to believe in God or not. If I believe in God, I have the right to decide what expectations that being has of me. I also have the right to follow those expectations. What I may not do is harm others through either action or inaction in order to satisfy God.
  • It is more important to be wise than to be happy. Seeking happiness over wisdom is likely to lead to neither one, but seeking wisdom over happiness is likely to lead to both. Wisdom is the key to happiness. Understanding is the key to wisdom. Knowledge is the key to understanding.
  • There may be nothing in life I can truly control. Life is a matter of probabilities and odds. I cannot change that. What I can do is change the odds.

On the Purpose of Death

Our pet hamster, Godzilla, died today.  The kids are old enough that it wasn’t a big deal.  They’ve had beloved pets die before.  They’ve also had several beloved family members who passed away.  It is no longer a major occasion.

It does bring up a question for me, though.  We talk a lot about the purpose of life, but not much about the purpose of its opposite: death.  Why do we die?  Why does everything die?  I’m not posing a religious question, exactly, but more of a scientific one.

After asking myself that question, the question that comes to me next is:  what would happen if we didn’t die?  Or more precisely: what if we did not get old?  What if we could live as long as we had food and could keep ourselves in one piece?

First of all, the world would fill up pretty quickly.  There would no longer be enough food for us and then we would die of starvation instead of old age.  So if we didn’t get old and die, we would die of starvation instead, which isn’t exactly an improvement.

We could solve that problem (or our biology could solve that problem) by having fewer children, only enough to keep the population stable.  In that case, we could live as a species quite comfortably with the resources the earth provides and live a very, very long time…until some new bacteria or virus hit us or some problem came up that we couldn’t adapt to.  Then we would start dying faster than we reproduced, our numbers could drop far enough that we wouldn’t be able to maintain our population and our species would go extinct.  This is particularly likely if we have very few children.

So part of the problem is that the things around us keep changing.  Bacteria and viruses change very quickly and we have to change to be able to fight them.  Modern medicine has changed the rules of that contest, but eventually bacteria and viruses sidestep any weapon we throw at them.

The environment changes, too.  Climates grow drier, wetter, hotter or colder.  In the past, people have adjusted to those changes in one way or another.  It actually seems that human beings’ greatest strength is its ability to adapt to different environmental conditions.

Our own ability to adapt may make us a special case in the world.  We may not need to change biologically to adapt, but that has yet to be proven.  Even so, every other species that has ever existed has had to change biologically to adapt to new threats and new circumstances.  For most species, that means adapting to new diseases, parasites, predators, competitors and conditions.  A species that never changes biologically is likely to die off completely.

So it seems that species must change biologically to continue.  Those that don’t change, cease to exist.  We must die if our species is going to continue.  In other words, we die so that the next generation can replace us, with the hope that they will be able to do better than us.

That is not a very revolutionary concept.  It’s instinctive.  One of our greatest purposes in life, we all know, is to make the world a place where the next generation can thrive.  We don’t need to have children to do this or think about this.  People who don’t have children still want the human race to continue existing and to do better than we do today in some way.  Even if we don’t agree on what should be different in the future, we pretty much all agree that things should be better somehow.

We live, we enjoy life, we want to continue life, but we give up our place in the world so that another generation can rise up.  And we do what we can to make that generation successful, even if all we do is talk to our friends about how the world should be (or could be) a better place.  Doing that is contributing to the success of the human race.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons we value our aged:  because people’s opinions about how the world should be tend to improve with time.  We care for our elderly and want them to continue living as long as they can. Hopefully we also hear the things they have to say.

We also keep going ourselves, because we have something to contribute to the future success of the human race.  At the very least we have an idea about how things could be better and we know our ideas will only improve with time.  For human beings, anything we do to make the world a better place is worth the effort, but that universal human idea of how to make a better world is valuable in and of itself.

If this is right, then I would say we live to make the world a better place for a future generation.  Then, when biology or God dictate, we die so they can have our place.