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Fifty-Second Sort

Finding meaning in life.

by Dear Jon
May 24, 2001

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Fifty-Second Sort_Dear Jon-Finding meaning in life. ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

In your last column you talked about the dangers of ice skating, but what about the dangers of water polo? Isn't there a high risk of the horses drowning? Shouldn't PETA be doing something about this?

Sincerely, Sports Guy

Dear Guy,

With fans like you, it is strange that water polo does not do better with the public. But I am not going to comment further, because Dear Jon is an advice column, not a sports forum. The sports forum is a great place to share all kinds of opinions about sports. But I will say, I have no idea what the Planters of Eucalyptus Trees in Australia have to do with water polo. To see what a letter for advice might look like, read on.

Dear Jon,

My life does not seem to have any meaning. I enter data all day, and then I go home and surf the web or play Tomb Raider or watch t.v. What can I do to find meaning in my life?

Sincerely, Bored and Tired and Empty

Dear Bored,

The problem of meaning is generally limited to those who have already resolved the problem of survival. You have a job and, by the standards of several billion people around the world, you live a luxurious and worry-free life. "Meaning" is not questioned by those who are not sure if they will ever be able to eat again.

I find that most people in my acquaintance (i.e., Americans) have a Low Meaning Threshold. This means that most Americans are content if their life is important to other people. The person with friends is less likely to question their purpose than the person without friends.

This does not mean that life has no meaning to the friendless person. It does mean that the friendless person is more likely to question what that meaning is. Many of our brilliant artists, musicians and poets were very lonely people who, from their isolation, poignantly captured and presented the noblest and frailest aspects of our humanity before they killed themselves. Others of our brilliant artists, on achieving popularity, discovered meaning in their popularity, and their art lost the "edge" it had before. When artists become happy, well-adjusted people, we call this "selling out." This is an appropriate term, since this is when it becomes very difficult to find tickets to their concerts.

My goal is to "sell out." It should be everyone's goal who presume to speak, even from one's partial observation, on the human condition. The point is to establish connection through shared experience or through an analogy that awakens shared emotion. Connection creates friendship and popularity. Anyone who uses the term "selling out" as an accusation, is naive, jealous, and stupid.

But enough about art, Bored. You want to know where to find meaning. There is vertical meaning, and there is horizontal meaning. A cube-dwelling couch potato does not experience much connection with either the transcendant (vertical) or the communal (horizontal). The richest meaning will be found in the balance and tension between connections in both spheres.

The problem, Bored, is that finding meaning takes a little bit of effort and a little bit of initiative on your part. You will recall what "initiative" is. "Initiative" is what you showed when you applied for the job you have now. "Initiative" is what you promised your employer you would show once you were hired. "Initiative" is what readers show when they sit down and write an "Actual Letter."

Strangers will not knock on your door and ask to be your friends. Transcendent inspiration will not be found playing video games. So, join a club. Sit down and read a book that you only skimmed when you were in school. Tour a museum. Volunteer in an organization that helps people and establish yourself as dependable. Houses of worship are natural places to begin the exploration of the transcendent while making friends.

You will find that meaning does not come all at once. Meaning in life is discovered as life is lived and as connections are made with God and with others.

Meanwhile, it is absolutely essential that you log into the Partial Observer twice a week and read Dear Jon. Otherwise, this column will have no meaning and make no connection and I will go the way of all cyberspace.


Dear Jon:

If you ever get desperate for a topic (perish the thought!) you could do a second installment on the Ice Sports, and explain how it came about that someone removed the cleavers from the boots, replaced the cow patty with a bent bowling ball, and exchanged the hooked sticks for straw brooms.

There must be an interesting story behind a development like that.

Sign me,

Looong and Curly

Dear Curly: Thanks for the advice and for signing your letter. Normally advice columns go the other way. Now my advice for you is, go ahead and pressure the Webmaster to add "curling" to the Sports forums. And by the way, out of curiosity I checked out the "hockey" forum. There seems to be some kind of challenge being mounted against my previously unquestioned wisdom. As the prince said to the king, "The peasants are revolting!"

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