My seven year old must’ve been having an existential crisis this morning as he asked me: “What is your full potential, daddy…I mean, what do you want to be when you grow up?” A little bit later on the ride to school he queried: “If you had to die to save all of the animals on the earth, would you prefer to die or live and let the animals die?”
As a proud father, I’d like to think that most seven year olds are not pondering such profound questions, but in my experience children this age regularly consider such matters, if you give them the time and space to do so. The quest for significance begins at a very early age; the trouble is that it is far too often smothered by more banal human interests.
My wife mentioned something she heard a television evangelist say while flicking through the channels the other evening. The fellow (whose name escapes me) was discussing what he termed the three “levels of life”: survival, success and significance. If I understood her account correctly, he was basically saying that many successful people do not feel significant, like their lives are purposeful or meaningful. He went on to say that you cannot be truly successful or genuinely happy without a clear sense of meaning and purpose. Amen to that!
I think it is clear to all that we are not here simply to scratch out a living or to have a statue carved in our likeness after we’re dead and gone. Even small children understand that they are here to do something meaningful, to add value to the lives of others and to make a difference in the world. Unfortunately, society does its level best to wring such aspirations out of the individual in the name of productivity and continuity. The process is at work in the family room, the classroom and the boardroom. It is a sad, but pervasive fact which frustrates the manifestation of truth and by consequence, reality.
What we need are people who stand squarely in the middle of their worlds, who assume unqualified responsibility for that which is under their care and who establish significance through every thought, word and deed. As for my son’s question, I don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up but I do know that I will do my level best to assume responsibility for that which is entrusted to me and assiduously avoid being consumed by the unreal, superficial concerns which have consumed the lives of so many through the ages.
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” – Viktor E Frankl