One of the primary platforms in the world of thought since the beginning of humanity is the ‘why are we here’ kind of idea. It’s a massive question with an infinite number of valid and even valuable answers. From science to religion, from spirituality to human connection, music to parenting, we find compelling and emotion glimmers of purpose and meaning.
This is wonderful stuff, and my focus on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’ question isn’t to discourage one conversation in favor of another. It’s more of an instinctive feeling that the how question somehow answers the why question cleaner than almost any other answer. Here’s my logic:
The trouble with ‘whys’
When we ask why something is the way it is, we insert a ‘timelessness’ to it. It wins a sort of immunity to being an adapting part of the present, due to a consistent existence over all foreseeable ‘presents’.
For example: when I drop an apple, why does it fall? Because of gravity, and the relative size of the apple compared to the relative size of the Earth. That answer is relevant over all of recorded time.
This is to say that most ‘why’ answers are complete ultimatums or utter uncertainties, nothing of the actionable and malleable area in between.
This matters when it comes to why we exist. The question of why we are here is asked because we want some guidance, some relevant response that helps us make our decisions. However, why questions step outside of the moment, leaving us who live within moments with nothing to hold on to.
The relevance of ‘hows’
Why do we exist? It answers itself. The verb in that statement is ‘exist’, revealing the answer before any thinking begins. We exist to exist, implying it’s not why but how. How you exist is a tangible and usable reflection of why you exist, which is to say that you are the accumulation of your actions.
That’s literally it. The answer, right there in the question.
This doesn’t need to imply volition (he says to satisfy the philosophers, who may rightly object to that assumption). This doesn’t mean that ‘you’ and your behavior are somehow some expression of a spirit or a soul. It’s simply that a thing is what it is.
A tree grows to the sun, grabbing nutrients to produce fruit, which allows it to spread seeds in hopes of continuity. It’s behavior demonstrates it’s nature. It’s so simple we so often forget. Trees exist with the objective to (you guessed it) continue existing.
A human isn’t so different from a tree, and that’s a wonderful thing. We exist to do some very basic things. Love one another, build community, share ideas, experience life, add what value we can and ultimately not only make but be at peace with the environment in a way that leads future generations to similar symbiosis.
We love our families, empower our children, share intimacy and all and all be human. Why we exist is exactly that, how humans exist is why they exist. Most notably, why we exist is to continue existing.
It’s worth noting that when the ‘how’ of our existence becomes contrary to the ecosystem in which we operate, our ‘why’ comes into question. If we exist in a way that diminishes the hope of future existence, our purpose becomes dubious at best (and destructive at worst). War, destruction of our own ecosystem, predation, poverty, and the list goes on. We should be careful of these traps. They are contrary to our nature, and create dissonance in each of us.
But let’s forget all the big implications for society and sustainability for now. One thing at a time. When you go about your day today, remember that no ends will ever justify your means. It will be your means which justify themselves.