The Value of Meaningfulness
“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.”—Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Living within a vacuum is the standard for many people today.
Aspiring to have and keep the things that are prescribed in life, people keep jobs that don’t hold meaning for them beyond a paycheck and a place to spend their time during the day. When they get home, time they could spend with their loved ones is spent in recovery from standardized abuse, or at least numbing the boredom of life. People of all ages anesthetize themselves with television and alcohol, video games and sex, the Internet and food.
The makes people question the value of meaningfulness.
For a decade, I’ve been urging schools to consider the meaninglessness of being a student in schools today. Forced to sit in rows, learn facts through rote memorization, exhibit their mastery through standardized tests, and behave according to adult standards under threat of expulsion or imprisonment, schools are routinely harangued for what they inadvertently teach learners. Compliance, obedience, and authoritarian submissiveness are often cited as silent assassins of creativity in young people today.
This makes students yearn to identify the meaning and purpose in their lives.
Leaving seven to nine hours in school settings every day in order to return home where their parents are beginning daily recuperation from their workaday lives, young people face the prospect that after thirteen years of their daily conditioning they get to face the same realities their parents do, day in and out. However, devoid adult role models who live in fully meaningful, purposeful ways, children and youth are left to the devices of popular culture, mainstream media, and socio-economic norms in order to find their way in the world.
This forms a vacuum in society, a void where young people and adults lose their bearing on what matters to them, what matters to their families, and what matters to the world community as a whole. Entire generations have been raised without the prospect that there is a better life for everyone beyond the shallow materialism and hollow sentimentalism propagated by television shows, pop music, and junk magazines. Brought up to love conformity and honor authority, entire social classes reject the notion of transformative living or revolutionary thought.
The value of meaningfulness is that it harbors within it an inherent hope, a prospect that all things can be better in all ways. Finding meaning means naming purpose, finding belonging, or identifying pathways for living in any of its myriad forms. Meaningfulness is, by its nature, a restlessness and a particular urgency that insists that lifeisn’t merely what is right in front of us, but something more, something deeper—or more so, that life is what it is, and that there is meaning in that, too. That’s the awesome thing about meaningfulness: it’s entirely up to each and every individual to determine what the meaning is.
And that’s the value of it—the calling, the insistence, and the uplifting reality that everything means something. This stands directly opposed to the drab prospect that nothing means anything, and is the reason why I think we should teach meaningfulness today.