Be Serious So You Can Stop Being So Serious

To philosophize is to prepare to die. Or, to truly take your life with the seriousness that philosophy demands, you can’t take your life all that seriously. (Plato at the Googleplex, page 303)

What is that about? If I’m so serious-minded that I’m preparing to die, aren’t I taking life pretty darn seriously?

On the contrary, I would say that it’s only by taking life seriously that I can be prepared to die, so to speak; and only when I have thus let go am I relaxed enough to stop taking life so seriously.

How does that work?

First, I ask myself why it matters to me that I continue to live. Surely the answer is more than “I want to see how my favorite TV series ends.” Surely a life that is worth continuing is worthy because it is lived in service to a cause greater than itself. Usually, that cause involves the care of other living things. It could be advocating for civil rights, advocating for the humane treatment of animals, or simply caring for a dependent relative.

In general, the greater the cause, the more it has a life and power of its own. The civil rights movement marched on even after Martin Luther King was assassinated. Rachel Carson died over 50 years ago, but the environmental movement she kicked into gear with Silent Spring is very much alive.

So, if I am living in the service of such great causes, I can relax because I am dispensable.

What about the “smaller” causes such as caring for an invalid relative, or raising my children? In those cases, I must not take my life seriously either, in the sense that my focus must not be on myself. Perhaps my presence is essential in a way that it would not be in a “great” cause, but if worse comes to worse and I am taken from my loved one, the love itself (which is surely the most important thing) will linger in them, perhaps even more sweetly.

In any event, the universe will go on. If the entire Earth is obliterated tomorrow, the universe’s beauty will continue to unfold as if nothing had happened. Life will most likely arise in other star systems, if it has not already. Living beings will evolve to cooperate and eventually to love each other just as we have. If love is the essential thing, there will be plenty of it. If beauty, rather than love, is what makes everything worthwhile, then there will be plenty of that, too.

Truly the entire human race is insignificant in the grand scheme of things, to say nothing of my puny life.

When we use the expression, “he takes a philosophical outlook” we mean that he is looking at a bigger picture, stepping back from from whatever problem is presenting itself. Without a “philosophical outlook” our emotions are bound to the circumstances of the moment.

The more seriously and philosophically we think about life, the more we realize our insignificance. That lets us relax, enjoy the life we have, and be a little less serious.

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