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
What an eloquent reminder of how labels separate us a human beings. I think sometimes we even hide behind those labels.
Love the experiment! It’s amazing when we find that we have much in common with someone we may never have met otherwise because of our incompatible labels.
Yes Marc, you’re right. We are all in pursuit of the same thing. “Feelings” ain’t it though. They’re too fleeting, wishy-washy. Too much so to be the meaning of life. And of course our humanity is our greatest commonality, transcending any and all personal pursuits and beliefs. A clue to true meaning perhaps?
Neat way to look at it. I think this indirectly speaks to the “universal one-ness” that Buddhism talks about. They’ve got some good teachings out there in the East that are easier to relate to than a lot of people might think.
What a great reminder to all of us. To connect with each other regardless of differences; to find the commonalities; to remember that we are all human after all. A fitting post for this historic day!
Jeremy Day says
Hi Marc & Angel,
This is truly insightful. I love the social experiment! And I think this is a strong truth that needs sharing. So thank you for sharing! 😉
Interesting insight. I like the bottom line, that we all want peace, fulfillment, to feel alive.
On a side note, you think 1 1/2 years of relationship is “long-term?” I prefer 50 years as long-term. Even 20 or 10, but 1 1/2? That is not long-term to me.
Grace Kleppin says
Might I add it is often both/and rather than either/or?
The ‘labels’ are part of who your friends are, just as their human universals also describe them. We all need to be part of a tribe, just as we need to be human, just as we need to be unique and special.
The wonderfulness of life means that we can be many things in our lifetime. G.
I really like this article… it makes some great points. However, I do not agree with your inclusion of the lesbian.
I am a lesbian. It is not my attraction to or being with other women that makes me feel “alive, free, connected, self-fulfilled and at peace” any more than a straight woman would feel those things because she is straight.
Acknowledging that you’re gay just means you are not suppressing feelings and trying to be someone you are not.
Being a lesbian has allowed me to live an honest, healthy lifestyle just like those of you who are straight (you just never had to deal with the realization and then the coming out process of being gay).
I love my girlfriend with every fiber of my being and yes, that makes me feel “alive, free, connected, self-fulfilled and at peace” but being a lesbian isn’t a lifestyle I chose in order to feel those things. I am just in love.
The things I CHOOSE in my life that makes me feel all of those wonderful things are being in nature, exercising, reading and learning, and putting my passions to good use.
Being gay is not a lifestyle that is chosen in order to obtain some sense of happiness, well being, and inner peace. It is simply being who you really are.
I loved the stories of the 4 different people, and your idea of having them interacting in the same room. Perhaps when people are connected to life, they easily connect to others who are also connected to life? Whereas two people of the same profession who are not at peace may find themselves making forced conversation. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the interesting experiment.
This is so true. Let’s focus on our similarities, not differences and come together to create more beauty and love in the world.
Bamboo Forest - PunIntended says
Wow… Really interesting article.
Kevin Cummings says
I don’t respond to blog entries, but this one deserves comment.
It’s awesome. Thank you for this example that as human beings, we are all different, and we are all the same.
Elizabeth Torma says
Awesome!! I love it!
@Kathy: Yep. We do hide behind these labels at times. They become so ingrained in our minds that we begin to believe the labels are real… and they (instead of us) begin to mold our future.
@Shawn: You bring a good point to the table about the instability of feelings and emotions. However, I still believe the positive feelings one obtains from “doing what they love” or “being who they were born to be” is the end result that connects us and makes us human.
@MiniLifeHacks: Interesting… I’ve read about the Buddhist views on oneness, but it never consciously crossed my mind when I wrote the article. I certainly see the relationship though. Funny how that happens.
@Val: Point well taken. These days though, unfortunately, 1 year can be considered long-term for a relationship.
@Grace: Well stated. I appreciate your point about being an individual, while simultaneously being part of a larger tribe. The problem though… sometimes people can’t see themselves outside of the tribe and can’t see other tribes for their people.
@Nikki: Thanks for the clarification. I apologize if my phrasing in the story offended you. The goal was to use the Katie and Ryan for their contrasting character viewpoints based somewhat on the lifestyle they live. I do understand that being gay is more of an instinctual feeling than it is a personal choice.
@Daphne: Connected to life, eh? I like that. 😉
@All: Thanks for keeping the conversation going.
What a beautiful and insightful post. I am going to share this with friends and family. Thank you.
Sara at On Simplicity says
Lovely. And, in my experience, this rings true. The differences are many but minor and the similarities are few but absolutely core. This was a great reminder to look for similarities when I’m frustrated by people who seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum.
That was a beautiful post. I agree that people need to realize that other people are just that – people. It seems we all forget that too easily.
Hi Marc & Angel,
Great article here. I like your examples of lesbians, priests, athletes and chubby chefs above. It is truly insightful. You have given a different perspective of life.
Thanks for sharing.
Great stuff, we think along the same lines! We seem to agree not enough people realize that the meaning of life is necessarily in the eye of the beholder. In my mind, what really stifles collective progress is when a person imposes his beliefs onto others, having convinced himself that his beliefs are what gives life meaning and so all other beliefs are deviant. This is where bridges between people really break down and walls are erected to fill the gap. Well, what this person doesn’t realize is that while his beliefs may give HIS life meaning, they’re not what give LIFE meaning.
Incidentally, I’m almost done planning a blog post on this subject and thanks to you, I got an extra motivation boost to get it all rolling. Thanks man ^_^ I hope you will run into it when it’s done!
superb alternate take on this, preferred the original title though!
I TAKE OFF THE MASK says
I agree with you, though our paths seem different at times, we’re all similar in a way. Deep within us all is a search for the meaning of life, and a joy that surges outwards once we find our life’s true meaning.
@val: I guess it’s point of view. To me 1 1/2 years is a long relationship – I’m 22 and not had a relationship longer than 3 months. I’m also gay and unfortunately the gay community can be and is known to be fickle. I know of extremely few long term gay couples (long term as in more than 1 year) that are my age.
At my age relationships are so fast and fleeting (both gay and straight) that 1 1/2 years is a long time. When I’m 30/40/50 or whatever age, as I get older my idea of a long term relationship will change as I experience and witness longer relationships among my friends and family.