Katie, a close friend of the family, is just 21 and already publicly out of the closet. “I am deeply attracted to women. I’m a lesbian,” she admits openly. She has been involved in two long-term, intimate relationships in the last three years. Both relationships were with women her age. When I asked her why she lives this lifestyle, she said, “Because I feel like myself, completely alive, when I’m with another woman. I can’t feel this way when I’m with a man.”
Ryan, one of my grade school buddies, is now a Roman Catholic priest. He has chosen to follow a life of abstinence, instead devoting himself wholeheartedly to God and the principles of his faith. When I asked him why he chose to follow this path, he said, “Because I find peace and abundance through my faith. It keeps me connected and allows me to make a difference.”
Another friend, Courtney, an amateur bodybuilding competitor, is addicted to working out. “I can’t go a day without it,” she says. So she enters to the gym every morning at 5AM, performs a solid hour of weight training, and follows it up with another hour of cardio before heading off to work. When I asked her why she partakes in such a rigorous workout routine, she said, “Working out makes me feel alive, energized and at peace. It’s a way of life.”
A fourth friend, Antony, is a remarkable chef. He currently works at a fine Italian restaurant, but plans to open his own café in the near future. Antony struggles with an obvious vice; he enjoys eating as much as he enjoys cooking. His doctor recently told him he is nearly 60 pounds overweight. When I asked him why he isn’t more concerned with his weight as it relates to his health, he said, “When I cook, I feel free… free to be human, free to be creative, free to be me. When I eat what I cook, I experience the fruits of my labor. There’s nothing more satisfying than that.”
How fascinating. Human beings draw on sexuality, faith, exercise, and cooking to achieve the same thing, a feeling of being alive, free, connected, self-fulfilled and at peace.
The Meaning of Life
Personal development gurus, psychologists, politicians, philosophers, bloggers and various members of my social circle have frequently concluded that the future of humankind as a whole is in jeopardy because we all pursue life’s meaning in fundamentally incompatible ways. I firmly oppose this conclusion.
Life’s meaning, in my experience, is about the feeling of being alive, free, connected, self-fulfilled and at peace. Whether we use sexuality, faith, exercise, or cooking as the means to attain this experience, we’re all in pursuit of the same thing.
Human Beings Overshadow Their Labels
When I asked my lesbian friend if she could relate to a Catholic priest, she said no. And when I asked my exercise-obsessed, athletic friend if she could relate to a chubby, Italian chef with no desire to maintain a healthy bodyweight, she said no. In both cases, I wasn’t surprised with their answers.
I then conducted a little social experiment: I invited all four friends over for drinks at my condo this past Friday evening without informing them that the others were coming. The outcome was rather insightful.
When they transcended their informal labels (e.g. lesbian, priest, athlete, and chubby chef), and instead became real, live human beings occupying the same room together (e.g. Katie, Ryan, Courtney, and Antony), they all discovered powerful similarities among themselves as human beings that vastly overshadowed the vague differences they experienced as informal labels.
A Universal Struggle
I believe the worst thing we can do as human beings is to interpret our own pursuit of life’s meaning as fundamentally incompatible and dissimilar from the pursuits of others. Our basic pursuits in life aren’t that different. Thus, labeling them as different only isolates us from each other, which ultimately stifles the progress we can achieve together as a whole.
The best thing we can do is to accept the fact that labels mean nothing, and realize that the seemingly nonsensical choices of others actually do make a lot of sense if we have the patience and fortitude to uncover the reasons behind these choices. In doing so, we will likely expose the same universal struggle that drives our own pursuit: To feel alive, free, connected, self-fulfilled and at peace.
Photo by: J. Philipson