For lack of a better term, I sometimes feel a sense of survivor’s guilt at my own fortune. The overwhelming majority of human beings who have ever lived on this Earth, as well as most people alive currently, have endured miseries that I don’t even remotely know (aside from reading about them).
By a sheer accident of birth, I happen to be born in a place where I’ve never experienced starvation, war, chronic disease, domestic abuse, abject poverty, and the like. Why should I be so lucky when so many human beings aren’t? Given that most of the poorest countries have much higher birth rates, and are younger demographically speaking, the odds were against me.
(Of course, being poverty in and of itself doesn’t mean you’re more miserable. I’m talking about those who have experienced a plethora of difficult circumstances.)
\ The child above could just as well have been me, and visa versa.
I’ve told myself not to worry about things you can’t change? Try as we might, there will always be tragedies we cannot prevent or solve, whether in our individual lives or the world as a whole. But even accepting that premise, as I usually do, leaves me unsatisfied and powerless. The world is a cruel place, and by the luck of the draw, I won a good few could ever imagine.
But I do feel lucky. Thoughts like these are what make me appreciate my life so much more. I’m one of the lucky few to be able to, an d I shouldn’t squander that. Feeling guilty for my randomly placed existence is the least I could endure in return.
A good friend of mine responded to this reflection with one of my favorite statements, from one of my favorite philosophers. In fact, it’s what I based my “About Me” section on, and what has inspired my current path in life:
Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness–that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what–at last–I have found.
With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.
This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.
Courtesy of Bertrand Russell. It’s not a bad way to live. I could conceive of no better motivations than those he described. This is the only life I have and I mustn’t take it for granted. I know I’ve pontificated on this before, and that the statement is rather cliche, but it bears constant reminder. Far too often, it’s easy to forget these things until it’s too late, when the same random chance that gave you a good life suddenly turns against you. If and when that day comes, I’ll be sure to have lived a good life.