Well, here it is, the last segment on this topic.
Now, let’s go back to the subject of your own death to sum up all this discussion and make a final claim.
Your final end is the end of your goals. They are contained within your existence, and their effect outside of your existence is the province of other living valuers now as it was when you initiated it. All your plans, dreams, and history are not only finished but also suddenly meaningless to you. All things are meaningless to you after your death, assuming you do not adhere to the idea of an afterlife that somehow predicates off of what you have done during your life (though that perspective also is applicable to the premise posited here). Your values, as they were, are done. They were going to be that way when you died, always. There was never a moment when your machinations were slated to extend in significance beyond the end of your life. This is the claim I’ve made in the prior segments under this title.
Does this mean that you should hole up your values and only think about yourself? Absolutely not. Does it mean that the work you have done to “improve the world” is pointless? No, not at all. It means that all the meaning and significance in those goals was always wholly contained in yourself. Yes, other people may value it after you’re gone. Yes, that meant a lot to you while you were alive. But no, you weren’t being a part of something bigger than yourself. No, you weren’t extending the reach of your moral evaluation and influence beyond yourself (and what an arrogant thing to attempt). You did what you thought was right, and you felt satisfaction at the way it improved (in your estimation) life for others. Take the credit. You succeeded. You did not serve a greater good. You served a good that was in you. YOU were the good. And you were so great that others felt it too.
Here’s where we take what’s been covered and find a way to apply it to your life. And I could try to explain what this means to me, how I’ve tried to cope with it. The way I try to look at everything I ever experience in the context of myself only, and stop trying to attach to it significance that resides elsewhere. But instead, I will give you the remarkably effective method that I presented at the beginning of this topic: imagine your death. Sit alone (this is important), close your eyes, and imagine it with as much clarity as you can. Let the event happen, and watch the people in your life react. Then watch your belongings. And finally, visit each of the things that are important in your life and see what effect your passing has.
Here’s the test: if it feels good to think about where a particular thing goes after your death, the scope of your goal is appropriate. If it feels bad, you are trying to attach significance to it from outside yourself. This bad feeling is your mind telling you that you have a responsibility to that thing that is more important than the definition of important allows. It cannot be more important to you than your existence, because none of us are capable of valuing anything more than our own existence. This is like buying a better pair of tennis shoes so you can walk to Mars. It is a waste of resources.
A note here on valuing beyond your life: You are fully capable of valuing something so much that you’d rather die than let it be undone. But this is a subtly (and quite significantly) different thing. It is erroneous to say, “Your life is more important than mine,” because this is not a value judgement that a human being is capable of. “You are so important to me that I would die before seeing you killed,” is on the other hand, an entirely possible (and actually commonplace) sentiment.
If it feels bad when you imagine some aspect of your life going on after you have expired, consider the context and re-evaluate. If you take anything from me here, remember that when you do this, you are actually increasing its value rather than decreasing. This is not a devaluation. If you feel that it is, there are deeper re-contextualizations to undertake as well. It may be particularly difficult to grapple with this exercise and come out of it better.
Consider for example the parent who knows their child would suffer after losing them. Yet, that concern, that pain, that anxiety are actually expressions of love for the child. The whole package, pain and love included, are completely contained within you and your life, whether or not you acknowledge it. The point is to try to acknowledge it, and live with the deeper connection to who you are, what your heart feels, and what your position in an objective reality devoid of intrinsic value actually is. The process will emphasize and contrast the facets of you that make you who you are. It will extricate the portions of you that you bury under a pile of dodged responsibility in the form of relevance to external things, and make them stand out in the context of yourself, and give your love, your goals, and your values new meaning and force.
This is what I mean by grok death to grasp life. Understand the finite timeframe of your existence and use that information to set the scope of your goals. After all this talk it may seem a simple concept, but like a proverb, the application is broader than it seems. For most of us, especially first-worlders like myself, it is life-changing.
That’s all I have to say on this topic, and thank you so much for reading it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Next time, a new topic. I promise!