Why Does it Matter?

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Our society focuses on the easily observable, the easily quantifiable. How much money do you earn, how tall are you, how smart are you, how big are your breasts. From these we pick and choose measures that we apply to our own lives. Perhaps we do not care about money, but we care deeply about professional achievement. Perhaps intelligence matters not, but beauty matters greatly. And from this rough outline we fill in the details, usually in a way that matches both our circumstances and our aspirations. For example, “wealth” can mean many things to many people. A villager may feel “wealthy” if he owns a plot of land…a hedge fund manager may need to earn billions before feeling “wealthy.” We may also combine measures, and craft them into more complex standards. We may not need the most wealth, or the greatest beauty, but perhaps we combine moderately high wealth with enviable beauty and keen intelligence. We use this combination to write a narrative for ourselves against which we judge the quality of our lives. “I am a savvy entrepreneur, others may have a higher IQ but less street smarts, and certainly less money.” And mentally we add further specifics: our interpretation of “savvy,” our notion of “street smarts,” the value of IQ points expressed in dollars and cents, all of these help define the life we wish to live.

Incredibly, the entire apparatus…the complex scales that we use to evaluate our lives, determine our self-worth, direct our time and energy…is completely arbitrary! We cannot agree on the standards…some measure self-worth based on money, others based on beauty, still others based on title. We cannot agree on the definition of these measures…the adage, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” applies not just to beauty, but to intelligence, artistic ability, and a host of other attributes. We cannot agree on thresholds for success…smarter / wealthier / prettier than 50% of the population? 1%? One tenth of 1%? And even our personal definitions, our individual standards, change all the time, they depend on our circumstances and whims. “Since I won the lottery, money no longer seems important…I must make a difference in the world!” No credible authority proclaims that our income, or our physical appearance, determines the quality of our existence. The loudest voices generally serve a selfish purpose. “Donate money to the Church, or spend an eternity in hell!” Or, “Rich people contribute more to society than poor people, and I happen to be rich!” We choose the narratives against which we measure ourselves. Do these narratives benefit us? Or do we become slaves to our own creations?

Why does it matter? Why does it matter how beautiful we are, how talented we are, how rich we are, how renowned we are? Recognize that our achievements, our wealth, our accolades, serve no purpose once we die…they neither secure our place in heaven nor accompany us to an afterlife. We cannot seriously care about legacy, for legacy follows death, and we will never reap its rewards. Our narratives only matter if they improve the quality of our lives, in reality, not in some imagined future. We should humbly ask whether the ideals we chase enhance, or detract from, our existence. And if we carefully observe our lives, we find that our prized attributes and possessions provide very little utility.

We drape a diamond bracelet across our wrist and pause to appreciate its beauty, yet as we move through our day, we quickly forget its existence.

A $300 dinner will not satiate us more thoroughly, or nourish us more completely, than a home cooked meal.

Away from photos, mirrors, and reflecting pools, physical beauty provides almost no utility, for we hardly ever see ourselves!

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