19th June 2008
It has been over 18 months, since I started this post. As a result, it has gone through some (though not really extensive) internal reviews and modifications. I have no doubts there will be more comebacks and reviews and edits to this topic.
On Sunday, the 10th of December, 2006, the grandmother of my wife died – almost three days after she had a cardiac infarction.
She was a kind, calm, warm-hearted old woman. She was just a little bit over 79 years old.
What did she leave behind?
She had brought up and educated her children and grandchildren to be People. None of her offspring went the way of crimes, or even disrespect towards others. The likes of her children could form a quasi-ideal ethical society, with no exaggeration – given she would be able to teach and bring up all of them.
She served the society well, working as a psychotherapist at a hospital. She helped people regain peace of mind, she cured mental diseases in the best way she could. She happened to meet her old-time patients in the street from time to time, and they expressed gratitude for her help.
She left a memory of a good, reliable, helpful person. This memory lives with all the people who were lucky to know her.
Death is the final evaluation for the person’s deeds during life.
What are the measures for this evaluation? What is really important? What matters after death?
First, it appeared to me that human memories are what matters. Memories of good deeds, memories of helping others, memories of being valuable for the society and mankind. “To put the mark on history” and “to be placed on record” are the expressions of the desire to have people remember someone even after death.
However, I have doubts that memories are what is really important. (I cannot explain what I mean with really important at the moment – I’m risking to get into circular argumentation. So let us consider this property to be something metaphysical, which isn’t directly related to the majority of phenomena we come to know during our lives, but which is a constituent component of all the deeds and actions.) Take stage, movie and music stars, for example. “Stars” often have huge numbers of people remembering them for decades and sometimes even centuries. But these are memories of “performers”, of “personal abilities to play well”, of “being able to live a role, not play it”, to “bring enjoyment to the lives of others” etc – these are not important per se. To put it simple, I consider “fame memories” generally not really important.
Thinking of fame memories, I can’t reject the notion of brightest stars and best artists directing the development of culture and pushing “into the masses” the understanding and the measure of the beautiful, the aesthetic side of existence. In my opinion, this is especially true of the Renaissance artists – taking into account the pre-Renaissance notions of culture and beauty, and the drastically different Renaissance art. Note the difference here: it’s not the artists we remember, but their art and the whole period. Of course, the names of Da Vinchi and Michelangelo cannot be forgotten – it’s just that their creations had outgrown the authors. What was done – was a massive change, and change is important. If it were for a single artist, not making the change happen – yes, we would probably still know his name, but that would only be primarily a part of the history book, not mankind’s heritage.
If I do ignore (personal) stage fame, and also drop memories within smaller groups and communities, then memories can be excluded from the list of really important attributes, following one’s life. Not to mention that “fame” also needs lots of manual refinement – e.g. the case of the “famous Herostratus”.
Let’s make an intermediary point: fame is not important, change in society is.
Let’s continue the never-ending search for the sense of life.
Evidently, anything valuable/material/physical you earned and spent during your life doesn’t matter – salaries, bonuses, dividends, etc – that was to support your body during life.
Any property you had during your life is not a measure as well. Your property might be inherited by your children, if you have them – but it is not a measure of your deeds. Being a land-owner, an industrialist, or a multi-billionaire is not a thing to write on a grave stone (in my opinion).
A thing to consider is charity. There is an idea that charity is good. Gifting fully-equipped computer-room to your school will likely bring benefits to the quality of education of the quite a number of pupils of that school. Not all charity is beneficial, though: only that is, which does change (improve) the state of things. However, I do not recollect any act of charity, which would exit the bounds of an enclosed society (be it even the whole country) or the time-frame of two generations. What I mean to say is: charity is the way to convert your financial wealth into the well-being of many others, if it makes a change. And the bigger the change, the longer its effect – the more real importance was created.
Another intermediary point: changes are really important for the final evaluation. The larger the scale of the changes you make, the longer the effect of those changes – the more value, the more real importance you create. (Granted, of course, that the changes you make aren’t against the principles of morality, ethics, and well-being.)
What do people consider important to do during their lives?
I know a number of people who live “for new impressions”, who want to “try everything” and gain as much as possible of “new experience”. However, these impressions and experience are personal – they die with the person. Thus, they cannot be a measure of one’s final evaluation, one’s “value-added real importance“.
A lot of people consider travelling to be a synonym of self-development. They think that travelling is worth the time. Is it so, when it comes to the death still? Evidently, it’s not – travelling is just one of the types of gaining personal impressions, personal experience. It (mostly) serves the selfish, traveller-centred desire to soak cultures and impressions, and only rarely produces “value-added real importance“.
The importance of self-development and gaining experience becomes evident when it comes to the actual use of one’s knowledge. If the knowledge/experience/impressions just cannot, or will not be used – then it’s a waste of time.
There are four points, serving as real importance approximations for me: strive for the changes to the better in whatever you are doing, do the good in your everyday life, pass on your worldview (principles, ideas, the best you could come to during lifetime), and exercise useful self-development (which is necessary to grasp more features of the world, for a more complete and reliable view).
This is clearly incomplete. Additions and corrections are due, for a lifetime.