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Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Cycle of Life

This morning my son called and told us he is engaged to be married.  It was a moment of joy, anticipation and reflection – mostly joy.  After some of the emotion of the moment dissipated, I was able to reflect some more, which brings us to today’s blog.

Why are we here?  Being an armchair philosopher, I’ve spent my share of time considering this question.  I’ve decided that the answer is: to leave the world a better place than we found it.  There are two fundamental ways in which we can accomplish this goal:
  1. Be good
  2. Make more good people
Anyone who has read Richard Dawkin’s seminal work, The Selfish Gene, knows that biologically, we are here to propagate our gene pool.  So, we try to be “fit” and then we create more “fit” people.  There’s probably not too much argument about this.  The trouble comes when you try to define fitness or goodness.  Tricky.

About 2000 years ago, a guy got nailed to a cross for saying how much better off we’d be if people were nice to each other, and people are still talking about the guy.  We should keep that on the list of what it takes to be good.  Being nice means helping other people and not hurting them.  This is a challenge for some, who feel the need to climb over the top of other people to get where they’re going.  But, even venerable sources of business knowledge like the Harvard Business Review are starting to encourage businesses and business people to be nice to each other.

And, we should take care of our home.  A wise philosopher once said, “Don’t shit where you eat.”  Now, if you’re a plant, a nice nitrogen rich meal can be very invigorating, but for most animals (insects notwithstanding), this means keeping the place tidied up.  Most of us do a crappy job of this.  Some of us can’t even keep our room tidied up, let alone our city, state, country, continent or planet.  If we don’t take care of our home, it will fall apart and then the place will go back to our nitrogen and CO2 consuming friends.

What does all this have to do with my son getting engaged?  I forgot…wait…that’s right – good people!  I happen to think my wife and I made a couple pretty good people.  We didn’t do it by teaching them to be good, we did it by trying to be good ourselves.  That’s the cycle.  Good people find other good people, they raise good children who become good people, who find other good people…you get the idea.

What about people that aren’t so good?  How will we ever make the planet safe for good people if there are people like Osama bin Laden, Slobodan Milošević and Dick Cheney out there?  Answer: time.  What appears as a pendulum in the near term is actually a spiral in the long term.  Each time our planet falls into violence, there are fewer and fewer people who want a part of it.  In time, we may actually learn to care for one another on a global scale.  Hopefully, our technology won’t get the better of us before we learn to be nice to each other.
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