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Posted by on Feb 2, 2014 in Blackacre, Leadership, Personal Motivation, Progressive policy, Public Policy, Self Improvement, Uncategorized | 8 comments

Fundamental Questions

Life is a trip. What better way to describe it? You’re in, you’re out, you’re up, you are down. The wicked prosper while the saintly suffer. Do something outrageous and the world beats a path to your door. Live a quiet dignified life and you die alone, broke and unheralded. There is simply no rhyme or reason to it and pain, loss and humiliation are unavoidable.

So what then is the meaning of life? The comedy troupe Monty Python made a movie about it, entitled what else, The Meaning of Life and even they couldn’t figure it out.

Yet, as bad as it sometimes gets, consider the alternative. Most prefer the beat down of life rather than the nothingness of death. So we cling to the here and now like alcoholics to a bottle. And while life offers few answers, it poses many questions, the most fundamental of which are:

·         Who am I

·         Where do I come from

·         Why am I here, and

·         Where am I going

The first question, i.e., “who am I” does not mean what is my name, first, middle or last. It is not a question of job, title or profession. The question has nothing to do with how others see or define us.

It is instead a matter of how we self identify; how we define ourselves. It is a question of one’s essence. At your very core, who or what are you? When you look in the mirror what do you see; what is reflected back at you?

The second question, “where am I from”, is not a matter of location be it nation, state, city or neighborhood. It has nothing to do with clan, racial or family heritage. The crucial inquiry is what caused me to exist? From what cosmic well do I spring?

The third question, “why am I here” goes to purpose. Why was I created? In my all too brief time here what must I accomplish, what was I made to do?

The fourth and final question, “where am I going” means when my life is over, what will become of me. Where will I go? Is this all there is or is there something more, beyond the veil?

Of these four questions, “why am I here” is the most crucial, extending far beyond the individual. The very story of mankind revolves around the search for purpose, the challenges and hardships endured in meeting one’s purpose, the avoidance of purpose and/or the abdication thereof.

Whether to make beautiful works of art, to free a people, to write the great American novel, to lead a nation, to teach the children or to hold fast, to remain resolute while the rest of the world stands at the mouth of madness, the question, “why am I here” is the search for spiritual relevance. My duty to the world is the core query we are all obligated to ponder.   

A friend calls this duty the pursuit of enlightened self interest. He reasons that by pursuing a higher purpose we automatically act in our own self interest. This theory is supported by multiple studies which show that praying for another, profits the person who prays as much if not more than the person(s) for whom the prayer is intended. Making the world a better place therefore redounds to our own individual benefit.

Hence, we would do well to do more than just breathe. It is profoundly wise to accomplish more than merely live. Our self interest is deeply rooted in supporting each other, cherishing and protecting our families, contributing to our communities and to otherwise make this world a better place.   

From both an individual and a public policy perspective, far too many fail to consider much less pursue a higher purpose. We tend toward aimlessness, with no sense of social responsibility. Our goals are the immediate, our attention span is ephemeral and we see no further than our own noses. We falsely believe that the world owes us something, when in reality, life owes us nothing. We owe life everything.

And while we may or may not have free will, God has a way of persuading us to justify our existence. He does so by endlessly asking us to find our greater purpose, to follow our greatest destiny, to do that which he desires until utterly exhausted, we eventually relent. I am often tempted to scream, “God quit poking me”. I resist this temptation only because it would do no good. God is nothing if not relentless.  

It is telling that the subject of last weeks Blog, i.e., “Real Talk” recently dropped by my office. When I asked “why were you created, what is your purpose in life” he responded, “My purpose is to get a job so I can take care of my mother.  Lord knows I have done enough wrong in my life.”

In conclusion, hell is not reserved for the dead and is neither a condition of nor conditioned upon our passing. It is not a place or destination to which we are transferred and confined once we die. Nor is it some Stygian netherworld of eternal damnation. Hell is to shamble through life absent purpose; without a reason to exist. True hell is to live a wasted life.

Addressing the fundamental question of life, “why am I here” does more than give us a reason to exist. It justifies our very existence.

Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO, Blackacre Policy Forum




  1. It is not only the wicked who prosper, nor only the good who suffer. That is an unfortunate belief system that has persevered for too long. “Oh, I can’t succeed, because I am unwilling to be crooked or evil.” “Oh, I know I cut corners in the honesty department, but that is just how the game is played. I have kids to feed.”

    I think it is one of the single most disempowering beliefs out in the world.

    Victor Frankl was a man – a psychiatrist and author – who had the misfortune to be both German and Jewish at the wrong point in history. His signature work – “Man’s Search for Meaning” – detailed more the day-to-day indignities and suffering of daily life in the Auschwitz work camps rather than the more major horrors they inflicted on the prisoners. Frankl made two points I think are worth mentioning.

    The first is that “what is the meaning of life” is an unanswerable question. But its converse, “what BRINGS meaning to life” is a pattern for living. I don’t think great success is necessary. Raising good kids, honest labor, and being a good neighbor can satisfy the question “why am I here.”

    The second was that you could always tell when a man was going to die. How? They’d start smoking. The Nazi’s actually gave a few daily cigarettes to the prisoners. Mostly, the prisoners would trade them with the guards for extra rations. But once a man lost hope, he’d not make that investment, and instead just take what minor pleasure a smoke could provide.

    I concur with your presenting a question of “why am I here” as a significant one. It sure was to Victor Frankl.

    • Now that’s what I’m talking about. To generate and facilitate real, thoughtfull analysis on the matters that concern us even if we disagree is the very reason Blackacre exist. Would that we could generate more, more, more of it.

  2. Interesting topic… why am I here – what is my purpose? A question that has perplexed the ungodly from the beginning of recorded history. I say the “ungodly” purposefully. Many would say that I lived an ungodly life for years… in reality, I lived a very godly life… I served every god that brought me some imagined form of contentment or pleasure. My gods were women, money, power, etc. That life of service eventually broke me to the point where I had to land on my knees and scream, “I can’t do this anymore, God, I don’t know who you are, but I am failing at running my life. Please reveal yourself to me and I don’t care what the personal consequences are to me.” That beckoning changed my life. God, My Lord, My King, My Savior … changed my life. He possessed me with His spirit and started a work in me that has rendered me purposefully and usefully whole. The man that lived a self-absorbed life, suddenly had interest in the welfare of others. My next pray was: “Here I am – do with me what you will.” Another prayer God answered in the form of “I put you on this earth to serve me in this capacity – He gave me a commission and a charge – go help my kids return to me – tell them what you have seen and what you have heard. My life has been radically transformed. I know my purpose – no question. I also believed that my Lord delivered me from the hell on earth and from eternal hell… yes, I do believe there is a hell… a real place that if we really had an idea, we would do anything to escape it. My prayer… is that God would dangle all of us over the pit of hell so that we could see why we need a relationship with Him and in turn gain compassion to help others escape hell as an eternal consequence. You’ve probably guessed by now that I am a Christian. My personal experience is that my relationship with Jesus Christ has made me the man I always desired to be. I have a purpose, I know how I am, I know where I’m from, and I know where I’m going FOREVER.

    • Thanks for the comment and I am happy that you found your highest purpose. By way of confession, I am not the most religious person in the world. I’m not quite sure that I want a compassionate God to dangle me over the pit of hell for any reason.

      The question is can two people of good will yet different beliefs work together to make the world a better place rather than allow said differences to divide us. Is it necessary that we pray to the same God; that we agree as to our articles of faith.

      Because whether it is religion, politics, national origin, race, ethnicity, color, national origin or gender there will always be something on which we disagree.

      Mike, I would love your take on this question.

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