The meaning of existence has been debated for millennia. From Tibetan monks to modern day consumers to indigenous cultures, life’s purpose has seen many different interpretations. The topic will likely continue to be debated as human cultures evolve. Who knows? Maybe one day, we may actually know what our purpose is. Or, perhaps the truth is that there is no objective meaning and, that life is, in fact, what the famous comedian Bill Hicks described as “just a ride.”
No matter your personal beliefs on the topic, each of us has an interest in the discussion as it relates to our own lives. We all have an innate desire to contribute to something greater than ourselves, even if it is simply to provide a better life for our children. But the question is: are each of us living a life aligned with what we believe our purpose to be? If we are not fulfilling our self-realized purpose, then what are we doing with our energy day in and day out?
I argue that most of us spend the majority of our energy working towards maximizing the quantifiableor that which can be measured in some type of unit – profit, efficiency, time, viewers, subscribers, market share, sales, revenue, income, etc. If I am a marketer, I am trying to maximize exposure to my product or service. If I am a CEO, I may try to maximize my company’s profit or market share. If I am a blogger or newspaper, I am trying to maximize the number of readers. An athlete tries to maximize his output whether it is distance ran, points scored, or wins tallied.
And this makes sense in a context of a growth economy. Our economic system incentivizes and rewards growth, which requires that it be tracked and measured. Whether we measure the gross domestic product of the country, the profit of our organization, or our personal income and wealth, society is obsessed with working towards the maximization of the quantifiable. But in a world obsessed with focusing their energy towards increasing the quantifiable indefinitely, what happens to the unquantifiable? What happens to respect, honor, gratitude, integrity, beauty, compassion, and love – the things that cannot be measured by numbers?
I think we all know the answer to this question. We see the diminishment and lack of the unquantifiable every day in the world around us. We see it when we compare a building with detailed moldings built 100 years ago with the modern strip mall or box store. We see it in food that barely passes minimum safety regulations. We see it in our entertainment that explores only the superficial. We see it in the “get rich quick” pyramid schemes, short life-span of products, and the demonization of our politics.
When our energies are focused on maximizing some number, it can be easy to overlook or devalue that which cannot be quantified. If an architect spent twice as much time making a beautiful building, it is unlikely that the building would command double the price. By incentivizing only the quantifiable or that which allows us to live, society is slowing becoming void of the unquantifiable, or that which makes life worth living.
The modern world is lacking a kind of sacredness, one that results from passionate people focusing not just on the quantifiable aspects (height, width, utility) of their creation but on the unquantifiable (beauty, uniqueness, feeling) as well. This lack of beauty, love, compassion – the unquantifiable – is felt by everyone in society at some level. You can see it in lack of smiles, wonder, amazement, and inspiration as people commute to work or walk along our city streets. Is this the best we can do? Are we ready to change the collective focus of our energies from increasing some number towards creating a world with more beauty, love, and compassion? I am.