Our Actions are the Answer

In writing about our ability to turn obstacles into opportunities for growth and our ability to always strive toward new goals, author Ryan Holiday turns to an Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl for a unique perspective. In his book, The Obstacle is the Way, Holiday writes,

 

“The great psychologist Viktor Frankle, survivor of three concentration camps, found presumptuousness in the age-old question: “What is the meaning of life?” As though it is someone else’s responsibility to tell you. Instead, he said, the world is asking you that question. And it’s your job to answer with your actions.
    In every situation, life is asking us a question, and our actions are the answer. Our job is simply to answer well.
    Right action—unselfish, dedicated, masterful, creative—that is the answer to that question.”

 

Holiday is explaining in this quote that each moment of each day, our present decisions and actions, define the life we live. How we respond to the world around us, what we choose to do with our time, and the perspectives we adopt are all part of what creates our purpose and reality. We build our own meaning, and it is established in the actions of our lives.

 

For Holiday, this means that the obstacles we face and how we react to those obstacles is all part of the meaning of life. Will we react positively and overcome our challenges, or will we be defeated and complain about the difficulties we see in our own lives but not in the lives of others? Will we build upon a solid foundation of meaningful action, or narrowly act in our own self-interest for our own desires? Recognizing that our life is not defined by the things we have or the lifestyle we pursue can help us see that we are truly defined by how we interact with the world around us. In each moment we decide how we will act, and we can decide whether those actions will be shaped to fit our own desires, or whether they will help us move toward greater ends. There is no ultimate truth that establishes the ends toward which we strive. It is up to each of us to decide what a truly meaningful existence will entail, and our actions and decisions will reflect the reality of what we find important and meaningful.

Purpose

Colin Wright in his book Act Accordingly wrote a passage about the meaning of life and our purpose. What I liked about his approach to the question is that he brings purpose down to an almost day to day level to examine the goals we set and drive toward.  “There’s much ado about the ‘meaning of life’ which is silly, because that purpose — the pursuit of which is your meaning — changes day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.” Wright continues on to acknowledge the biological meaning of life to pass our genes on to subsequent generations, but he stays focused on the goals we maintain for ourselves, and what we do each day that brings us closer to those goals.

 

In a very real sense our spirituality can be nicely defined by Wright’s ideas.  Many religions have goals associated with the end of life, and include steps for reaching those goals. The goals become a purpose for people to constantly move forward in a positive light, and can be a permanent fixture as life changes course.

 

Wright acknowledges is that our biological purpose for living does not seem to be strong enough to settle the intellectual question of what the meaning of life is, and that is why he focuses on identifying what is consequential to you at an individual level and worth pursing.  Building our self awareness can help us understand what it is that is important for us, and by maintaining that inner understanding we can focus on a destination and  purpose that guide us.  I would recommend that once we set out on this journey we read as much as possible to understand the best path to take toward our journey, but also so that we become more considerate and understand the value and importance of the goals of others.