Life’s Meaning in Responsibility

So I initially started writing a post about my thoughts on Channing Tatum’s breakup with his wife. It bothered me not in the telenovela 1 What Filipinos call Soap Operas sort of way – cuz I could care less about these celebrities – but it brought out bigger concern I had – a more existential one. So I decided to blog about it instead.

With much reservation, I have to admit the conservatives seemed to have got it right as far as the issue of marriage (and separation) goes. The prospect of divorce, or the “moral justification” (for lack of a better term) of any mode of separation in general has led to the trivialization of concept of marriage.

And again, I point this out not to make a moral argument – but to point out a more existential concern. That the “meaning of life” (or something that approximates it) really lies in the responsibilities we take. And how things like this put that in jeopardy.

Happiness and Fulfillment

A clinical psychologist I watch on YouTube makes a good argument about responsibility: That humans are essentially “beasts of burden”; we are designed to carry some sort of load – and successfully moving forward in life while bearing that load gives us more satisfaction compared to anything we accomplish for the sake of our IDs.

While I can certainly understand anyone being “selfish” (we’re not martyrs) to a certain degree, – this fixation on individual happiness has overtaken the need for responsibility – and we already seem to be paying for it in terms of how conflicts in political ideologies have been manifesting. But I couldn’t help but extend its effects to mental well being. Why is it that there are so many people who are depressed nowadays? It doesn’t seem to be a matter of misreported diagnoses – there’s really something in how modern society operates that has made people more susceptible to depression – and I can’t help but feel that the focus on individual happiness has something to do with it. There have been lots of sayings that describe the same situation: People who reach the top find out they feel just as empty as they were. Even worse for those who aren’t as successful, but just as lost.

Objectively, life sucks in practically every metric you can think of. Even what being successful entails: the opportunities you’ve had are ultimately at the expense of others’. If you look at things that way, of how horrible “Life” actually is, and how vulnerable we are compared to all of Life’s complexities being thrown at us – it’s a wonder why everyone’s not depressed. But as mentioned earlier, we are beasts of burden, and responsibilities make the burden of life worth carrying – make life worth living.

Responsibility – that’s what gives life meaning.

Lift a load – then you can tolerate yourself. Cuz look at you… you’re useless: easily hurt; easily killed. Why should you have any self respect?

Pick something up and carry it – make it heavy enough so you can say “Yeah, well useless as I am, at least I can move that from there to there.”

-Jordan Peterson

Focusing on one’s individual happiness doesn’t really get you anywhere. It does provide a quick fix, I suppose 2 And if you’re successful enough, maybe you can sustain the high for much longer than normal – but I don’t feel it will ever give you the purpose/meaning (and therefore fulfillment) to make you think you’re actually worth anything more than the image you’re trying to project to the world. I can imagine that feeling of purpose/meaning, on the other hand, when you have something significant to live for other than yourself; a partner, a kid, a family, etc.

Responsibility in Context of Marriage

Now let’s integrate what I’ve been saying in the actual context of the issue of separation:

This is why I always felt that the existence of annulment, difficult and impractical a process as it is, was already more than enough. Because it accounts for something detrimental that the couple [miraculously] only realized later on. And mind you, I’m being very, VERY generous with that statement – I honestly think that once you get married, that’s it. If you feel you’ve made a mistake, you f*cking live with it. My only exception would actually be forced marriages. Other than that, if it’s something you did voluntarily, then you should accept the consequences of your choice.

Anyway, other than those “extreme” circumstances, I’d like to believe that the vows you uttered during that ceremony you both took part in VOLUNTARILY – actually meant something. That when you say “for better or worse – till DEATH” – it’s pretty much crystal clear what this commitment entailed.

Reading about this Tatum separation is disconcerting not because of the people involved, but because we’ve clearly come to a point where you can separate… well pretty much anytime you feel like it. “Lovingly separate” what sort of bullshit excuse is that to override something like “I will love you for as long as I live and breathe.”?

What lesson will you be teaching your kids about relationships then? Because you can’t really say that separation is this extremely awful thing – because why the hell did you do it? but you also can’t make it seem like it’s something that can just happen (the same way it rains) or worse trying to frame it in a way that it was a corrective measure of some sorts – is a deceitful way of justifying your personal blunder. And it will undermine how your kid will see relationships themselves.

Do we honestly think that this “acceptance of separation” was a natural evolution and improvement of perspective? More likely we’ve chipped away at the foundations of these pillars of purpose and meaning for the sake of the practicalities of our own naked self-interests. Regardless of the reasons people have for separating (from petty to valid), for better or worse, making separation easily accessible undermines the importance of the relationship and responsibility. God only knows how far off we’ll continue to stray and how shallow human relationships will be at the end of it all.

Notes   [ + ]

1. What Filipinos call Soap Operas
2. And if you’re successful enough, maybe you can sustain the high for much longer than normal

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