Wow, that’s a big question.
But it’s a wrong question to ask.
Hmm…, why? That’s what we talked about in school today
I wish they taught you more concrete and effective things about the world in school. But anyway, let me explain. Question – what is “the world”?
This planet, and all the people on it.
Okay. Are all people the same?
No, each person is different.
Right, each one of us is totally unique, with different desires, needs and thoughts. So, what do you mean by “making the world a better place”? better for whom? better in what way?
I don’t know – safer, richer, more advanced?
Okay, how do you know that all people want to be safer or richer or more advanced?
I assume that being safer and richer is better for everyone.
Why do you assume that? I know a lot of people that are perfectly fine risking their lives every day in car racing and enjoy it, I know people that won’t like to be richer and are perfectly fine where they are. So who are you to decide for them that the world needs to be safer or that everyone needs to be richer?
I was just assuming it’s good for everyone.
You can’t assume those kind of things. Forget about the world, I don’t even know what is good for you and you don’t know what is good for me. Each of us is so different, that assuming anything about what will make them happier, is false by definition.
So how does one know what is good for him?
Now that is a very valid question and a hard one to answer.
If you want to know how to become happier, you’ll have to know yourself really well and discover what are those things that make you happy. The best way to know, is think about how you react to things – what pleases you, what makes you uncomfortable, what bores and what excites you. Those are important signals to who you are and what makes you tick. Those things are hints to the life you should aspire to live.
You mean, like the way I get excited about a new Manga book?
Exactly, that fact that you like Manga drawings says something about you. I don’t understand what you find in those cartoons, but that doesn’t matter and you shouldn’t care about what I think about Manga – this is your thing and you should explore it all the way.
So you think I should be a Manga artist?
First, it doesn’t matter what I think. You should be the one deciding about that. Secondly, you need some time alone to think about what it is that you specifically find exciting, are those the drawings, or characters or the storylines, or maybe it is something else?
Understanding exactly what you like and how to go about getting more of it, is one of the toughest things for a person to figure out. For some people it is very obvious, people usually say “they were born to do that” about them. You should discover what you were born to do and what will bring you the most happiness.
But what if what I like is not productive or regarded as important? what if I just like to play games?
My suggestion is not to accept other people’s standards to what is considered “productive” or “important”. Someone is making a very good living from drawing those Manga books, and creating the games you’re playing with, right? Is that “important”?
It’s important for me.
Right, and I guess it is important for him or her as well. So disregard what other people say and just do your thing. Many people “decide” on what they are going to be without thinking about who they really are, what they are good or bad at. You shouldn’t be a businessman if business doesn’t interest you, and you shouldn’t be a doctor if curing people is boring to you. You should take the time to understand yourself and then do what you can to build yourself the right life that will make you the happiest you can be.
If everyone followed that advice – the world will be a better place – one person at a time. No one could or should “make this world a better place” for anyone other than him or herself – if they tell you otherwise, they want something from you.
So I need to think about what I truly like?
Yes. Understanding that is a key to happiness.
Okay Dad. I’ll think about it.
You do that. The time just before you fall asleep is a great time to think about it.
That means I need to go to sleep now?
I guess so.
Good night Dad.
Good night my dearest.
Just kidding. Just make sure to read Douglas Adams one day.
That is the question of all questions, kid. I hope you’re not too tired – this requires a lot of thinking. And because it is such an important question, we’ll have to go about this slowly and thoroughly. Don’t fall asleep, you promise?
I’m fine Dad. So what is it?
Let’s start from the beginning. What is life?
Life is something that living things have.
True. But what exactly is it? What defines a living thing?
Hmm… They can move.
Right, living things can move, but what defines living things is that they move by themselves. What happens when a living thing dies?
It stops moving.
And it becomes inanimate like any other indestructible materials.
Like a rock?
Yes. And note that the ability of a living thing to move is conditional and temporary as they can die and become inanimate. An inanimate thing’s existence is unconditional and eternal. So what do living organisms have to do to stay alive?
Yes, they need outside fuel to get energy. But also look at the way they are structured. They have organs that are designed to sustain their lives like a heart, kidneys, blood and so on. Living things act to achieve something very specific – to achieve a goal.
You mean a goal to stay alive?
Exactly. Only living things have a goal they are trying to keep themselves alive. Life is the value they are trying to achieve and sustain. Now, is a life of an ameba looks like the one of a tiger?
No, they are very different.
Every organism has a proper way of action. That is its nature. A human being has a specific nature and a proper way of action to keep and enhance his or her life. Now here comes an important concept:
Life is the standard of value.
Not sure I got it Dad. What do you mean by standard of value?
Life is the ultimate goal and it defines the standard by which we judge any action. If you do something that supports your life, it is a proper action, like breathing, eating and thinking. Those are necessary to you as a human being. A bird needs to eat worms and learn how to fly, that is what is proper for it. Now nature made it a little easier for us to judge what is proper or improper for us. Every organism has a mechanism to tell it if it is doing well or not. It is the pleasure and pain mechanism. Pain tells you that something is wrong and you are failing in sustaining your life, pleasure tells you are succeeding.
So when I fall and hurt myself, that means nature is telling me that I just did something wrong?
Basically, yes. Hurting yourself is not good for you.
But what about putting that medicine that burns on a scratch? It hurts, but it is actually good for you.
You mean an antiseptic. Yes, this is the unique thing about humans, we have something even more sophisticated that pleasure and pain – we have a reason. We know that putting that antiseptic will hurt, but also that it is good for us in the long run.
That is pretty simple so far, but when you asked the question “what’s the meaning of life?” you meant to ask what is the meaning of a human life, your life. Right?
So what do you think is so different about humans?
We think. We talk.
Right. We can think and so our action is not automatic. Nature didn’t program us to instinctively know how to lead our lives like a bug or an elephant. We have awareness, choice and free will. So because man is a creature of free will, it has another mechanism other than pleasure and pain.
It has the happiness or suffering mechanism. That is the pleasure and pain mechanism of your mind. It is the mechanism telling you if your decisions are going in the right or wrong direction.
So if I do the right things to make life better, I will be happy?
Yes. And here’s your answer – Pursuing happiness is the meaning of life. Happiness is a long lasting state where your mind and body are doing well, are flourishing, and are healthy. Now, understanding what are the “right things” that will make you happy – that’s the more complicated question, but as long as you remember that life is the standard, it will be much easier.
So how can I know what are the “right things” that will make me happy?
You’ll have to evaluate every action according to the standard – is it enhancing your life? is it good for you in the long term? does it contradict any other action?
And here is the hard part – Our mind is a very sophisticated organ but it has a specific nature. The way it perceives, analyzes and understands reality is through concepts and if you understand how concepts are formed, you’ll understand what is the right way to form those concepts. This will allow you to understand, cope with and master reality that is all around you.
Our mind’s nature defines what makes us happy. It will take too long to explain why, but for now, I can just tell you that if follow the following principles, you’re more likely to be happy. Ready?
You should think rationally about everything. Experience and enjoy your emotions, but don’t make decisions using them.
Be productive and creative. Express yourself and allow yourself to experience success in mastering something.
Be independent. Learn how to take care of yourself. Learn from and enjoy other people, but don’t become dependent on anyone.
Be principled and have the integrity to always act according to your principles.
be honest and never fake reality. Evading reality will always hurt you eventually.
Treat your fellow men with justice. Judge them according to their value to you and always respect their rights.
Be proud and respect yourself.
There you go. I told you what the meaning of life. Now you can go to sleep.
That’s not enough, Dad. How do I do all of that?
That is another big question. How about we talk about it tomorrow?
Okay. Are you happy Dad?
Yes I am kid. My life is on the right track. Are you?
Yes Dad. I am.
Happy dreams kid.
Why are you asking kid?
Most of my friends in class think it is the best thing you can be.
So, here is what I think:
First, choosing a profession and a career is a serious thing. You have to know exactly what you want to do in life. You are going to spend most of your life working, and it can either be a boring drag, waiting for workdays to end so you can go back home, or it can be a long-lasting adventure with you pursuing something that you can’t get enough of.
It is the difference between an awesome life and an average one. And most people lead an average life because they are afraid.
Afraid of what Dad?
Afraid of fear. Afraid of risk and uncertainty. They are trying to make life as predictable and safe as possible, and by that taking all the fun out of it. Think about the people and characters that you admire. For instance, what is the common denominator of all the super heroes you like so much besides their powers? What kind of life are they leading?
Are they taking risks? Do they follow their passions?
Yes, they do.
So, you see? This is what I wish for – to be a super hero! in whatever field of life it might be.
Thanks, Dad. And what about being the president?
It depends on what being a president means. If you read what our founding fathers meant, it was about managing the army, our foreign affairs and protecting our rights. But today it means something very different.
Let me ask you this first – what makes you proud of yourself?
I don’t know, maybe when I succeed in doing something?
That’s true. Trying something and succeeding, getting a positive feedback from reality and other people makes you proud of yourself. It tells you are competent, that you can deal with life and do even greater things.
Look around you. See this bed, the light, your desk, the laptop on it, your shoes, your toys?
Yes, what about them?
Someone made them. Someone thought, designed and built them so we can buy and use them. Those people created something. So how do you think it made them feel?
You got it. But they also got to make money and enjoy other things in life.
So let’s get back to being a president. Why would someone want to be the president or a politician now days?
To pass laws and manage the country?
True, but what is the reason they want to do it?
Make everyone’s life better?
Right, but the question is: CAN they and SHOULD they? Because you’ll agree with me that you don’t want to choose a career in which you are doomed to fail. Right?
I believe that pursuing a career for the “greater good” can lead to something VERY wrong.
I know it is the opposite of what they teach you in school, but that it the truth because this is how our mind and emotions work. Doing great for you and society is a little more complex than what people think.
That sounds strange Dad. What is wrong with wanting to help others?
There is nothing wrong with that.
The question is how do you REALLY help others. How do you ACTUALLY make their lives better.
These days, politicians, including the president, are trying to simplify those questions by telling us that we should just do things for others. Pay taxes, serve our communities, help the poor, the sick, the unemployed, the environment, and even the polar bears. Their equation is simple: Someone needs something, that means you need to help.
But that is NOT how things work. This is a recipe for disaster.
Why? What’s wrong with just giving to other people?
Let’s think about it logically.
If you want to help someone, you need to give them something.
If you need to give them something, you have to produce it or earn it.
If you need to produce something, you need to think and act.
If you want to think and act, you need motivation and interest – or otherwise you are enslaved to do something you didn’t choose to do.
If you need motivation and interest, you need to have some kind of passion or desire to do it, assuming you are a free man and not living in a society where they tell you what you need to be doing for society like in North Korea, Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany.
Where does passion and desire to do something come from?
From the things that you like to do.
Let me repeat what you just said. “the things the YOU, LIKE to do”. You didn’t say, what OTHER people need me to do. You said, what I LIKE to do. And that is a very selfish, self-centered thing to say… but it is the essence of what I am saying.
When YOU choose what you want to do in life selfishly, you end up creating something valuable that other people can use, making their lives better. The cars, houses, food in the stores, clothes – all were made by someone who CHOSE to do it for his OWN good, for his OWN self-interest, and by trading in a free market, he could then sell it and make everybody’s life better including his own.
That is the system that creates wealth and that lifts us all from being poor.
If you don’t follow this sequence – you end up with confusion, contradictions and unproductive, forceful laws. With politicians telling you what to do, how to do it, risking the subtle nature and the source of human productivity, and with poor people not being able to lift and motivate themselves out of poverty by hard work, because they get used to the idea that someone is obligated to help them.
But what about the sick people that cannot work?
Again, it seems like this begs a straightforward answer – right? Let the government take a little from each of us and take care of the sick, the old and handicapped.
But this NOT the role of government, because governments use force and force should be used only against force and not to motivate you to help. It is a fact that people want and do help WITHOUT anyone forcing them.
Really? Are you sure that people will help other people if no one forced them to?
Yes, and they did before we had governments in a much more efficient way.
What will motivate them to help?
Let me answer with a tough question. Did you ever see a hurt animal?
Yes. I did. I saw a squirrel that was hit by a car.
And what did you feel when you saw it?
Bad. I felt bad for it.
So what do you think you will feel if you saw a human getting hurt?
I would feel VERY bad. Much more that I would feel for the squirrel.
Why would you feel so bad?
Because it is a human being.
Exactly. We, by our nature, care for other members of our own species and we will help them as much as we can so they don’t suffer. We care about people because they make OUR lives so much better and we would like to see them prosper. There are people who do not care for other people at all, but most of us would like to live among other people and not on a secluded island.
If we had government step out from the role of forcing us to help each other, we would see a world of private charity that will funnel resources to the right people in the RIGHT way.
So let me give you the bottom-line.
You should focus on what YOU want to do in life and what will make YOUR life better. If you do that rationally, you will produce, make money, take care of yourself, your loved ones and anyone else that you care about. You might be so successful that you will be giving away a lot of money like many rich people do, because there is so much you need, and in the end of the day you do it for YOURSELF and YOUR CREATIVE MIND – not the money. Because money doesn’t buy you happiness – pursuing your values, including charity, will make you happy. And the truth is, that if we will be left alone by government to produce and take care of each other – everybody will be much better off.
So I don’t recommend being the president. I recommend choosing a real productive career.
Hmm… I didn’t think about it that way. Besides, I want to build an ice-cream company that makes the best ice-cream in the world. Better than the one we had in Italy!
You see? Without this passion of yours, how will people enjoy better ice-cream in the future?
They’ll just have to wait till I get older.
And if you want to get older, you need to sleep.
Good night Dad.
Good night Ben.
My name isn’t Ben.
You’ll get it eventually. Sweet dreams.
Are you kidding me, kid? I love being your Dad.
It’s such a hard job.
Hard? it’s not hard. It’s the best job in the world. And you know why?
Because I get to take care and be around the person I care most about . You.
Watching you grow. Playing with you. Having to answer all your hard questions.
But how do you know to be a good parent? how do you learn that?
Being a parent is being yourself. Parents are as good at being parents, as they are good at leading their own lives. We teach what we ARE.
Hmm. So you don’t need to know anything? just be yourself?
No, I didn’t say that. You need to know a lot about how to be a good parent. I said that being a good parent is a part of being a good person.
Let me explain what I mean. As a rational person, I know that my role as your Dad is to help you become a person with high self esteem, with an ability to understand and cope with reality, and lead a happy, fulfilling life.
So the first thing I have to understand is what makes a human being acquire self esteem, what is happiness and you get a sense of fulfillment.
So let’s start with self esteem. What do you think it is?
Believing in yourself, knowing that you are good.
Exactly. So the way I can help you is to show you that you ARE good as you ARE, that you ARE always important and able. You can always learn and grow your skills and knowledge, but I love, respect and accept you as you are right NOW.
Some parents have a set of expectations for their kids and they let their kids feel that they are good ONLY if they meet those expectations, only if they perform. That is bad for self esteem because the child feels that he is not good enough as he is now. Those parents say things like: “Why did you break that toy? you’re a bad boy!” or “You’re such a good kid, you cleaned you’re room”. Think about what it means. It means you are bad if you break something or that you’re good if you cleaned the room. A kid that hears those messages ends up thinking – “I am a bad person” or “I am good because Dad told me so”.
I think you are good regardless of your actions. Your actions might be good or bad, but I love you regardless. I believe that if you ACCEPT your child as he is than your child will develop SELF ACCEPTANCE – “I am a good person. I am loved”.
I also think that it is wrong to ask a child for obedience but rather for cooperation. To be able to motivate HIMSELF and not conform to what ever his parents demands at a given moment.
But what if I do bad things?
Then I criticize your behavior – not you. I tell you – “your room is a mess, it’ll be hard for you to find your things” and then I leave the judgement, evaluation and the thinking of what needs to be corrected, to you. If I told you – “your room is a mess, stop being lazy and clean it up right now!” then I call you lazy, I decide for you what you need to do about it and even force you to do it right now. That will not teach you to be responsible, trust your own judgement and that is also not very respectful – is it?
No. I hear parents yelling at kids all the time. You don’t yell often.
Why would I? Do I yell at my grownup friends that are coming to my house?
No. But they are your friends.
And who do you think is more important to me?
I am. <smile>.
You are. I try to be patient, and not lose my temper because it is very important for kids to have predictability. And if a Dad gets back angry from work and starts shouting on his kid for no reason, that kid will develop an anxiety because he could never know why he gets treated a specific way.
But even if I do lose my temper, what do I usually do after that?
Right, and that is because I respect you and I because I admit when I’m wrong.
So let’s talk about how, as a parent, I can help you become a HAPPY person. That is a little tougher because now I have to understand how someone becomes happy and how to instill that in my kid’s mind.What do you think makes people happy?
I don’t know. Making enough money to get all the things you want?
No. That is not how people become happy in the long term. So here it is, and I want you to think about this later:
Happiness is an emotional RESULT of pursuing and achieving your rational values and goals. It is a psychological EFFECT of knowing that you are doing the right things for yourself and your life.
So how do you know what you need to do to become happy?
As you grow older you will define a hierarchy of values and goals you’ll want to achieve or sustain like family, friends, work and hobbies. Everyone has to figure it our for themselves.
The primary value, for all of us, is life. To get food and shelter, clothes and other basic needs.
Then you’ll develop passion towards specific things in life and should try to spend most of your time around those things. Like inventing, drawing, racing cars, making music, building bridges – whatever fascinates you about this life. That will result in a sense of achievement and… happiness.
So whatever I choose to do will make me happy?
Not necessarily. Your goals need to be RATIONAL and not whimsical. You won’t achieve happiness by doing “whatever you feel like” – because whims and emotions cannot guide you and you won’t know why you are doing what you’re doing. That is why people drown in drugs or either get lost by random, contradicting actions just because “it feels good” at a specific moment.
And now that we’ve talked about what happiness is, how do you think a parent should teach his son to be happy?
Talk to him every night before he goes to sleep?
That too, but that’s not the main way kids learn. Kids learn from watching.
So that means that I need to practice what I preach. To exemplify what I think you should do to become happy.
So a happy father will have a happy son?
Not necessarily. We are two different human beings and it will be your own responsibility to make yourself happy. All I can do it to try and make myself happy and hope that you’ll find a way to do it as well.
Are you happy Dad?
Yes, I am.
So I’m happy too.
So I am happy three. Now go to sleep dear boy.
Hmm… I don’t really know. But I can give you some clues on how to find out.
Let’s take a hypothetical situation that might happen to you in several years.
You graduate from high school and you need to decide what to do next. You think about what will be the moral and right thing to do. You know you love drawing, especially cartoons. That’s what fascinates you, something you’d wake up every morning and do for 10 straight hours if you could afford it.
You’re dad says that it is impractical. He claims that Cartoonists can barely make a living these days and that you have the potential to become a great engineer like he is. He can also help you get a job in that big company he is working for. He talks to you about being logical and planning your life. About saving money to buy a house, marrying the right girl and avoiding risky moves.
You think about it and you are very tempted to take his advice. But something doesn’t feel right. There is a contradiction somewhere. And you well know by now, if there is a contradiction, there is an error here waiting to be fixed.
So you think about it some more. What if you take his advice? What if you become an engineer and start working in his firm?
Will you be happy waking up every morning to go to work? Not really. Will you make good money? Probably. You are smart and you will do fine, better than average. You will be able to save, meet someone nice, get married, buy a house and have kids. Will you be happy? You will be quite happy.
But, there something else here. Will you be truly happy? Truly fulfilled? Will you feel that you missed on something better, bigger and more rewarding than this path your father lays out for you? Yes.
Let’s say you go take a course with this genius cartoonist that you admire. They say that only one out of a hundred graduates get to find a real steady job doing cartoons. You will spend all your money on that course but you will learn all the technics you need to sharpen your skills.
You will apply to work in a daily newspaper. You will probably fail in the first couple of times. You will run out of money and will have to wait tables for a while. But you will not give up and maybe find a job as a designer while you apply over and over. You will be confident and proud about yourself pursuing your career and not giving up even if it is hard. And because you will get better and better, you will probably make it this way or another. In the process, you will probably meet a girl. She will be interested in what you do because that is what you will be – a cartoonist. She will probably be doing something that you admire. Why? Because the more principled you will be and more true to your goals and your passions, the more self-confident you will become. And I’m guessing she will find you more attractive.
People are attracted to values, spiritual and material.
You are pretty good looking and your character will be much more attractive if you’ll stay true to your values. You will develop a virtuous way of life and thus have higher standards in all fields of life, including love and romance.
You won’t be able to buy a house, so you will rent one with that amazing girl. You will have passionate love and probably a child. You will become a proud dad and teach your kid not to give up on his dreams. You will be a great dad. And who knows, maybe even a world famous cartoonist at one point in time.
So which option is better?
The latter Dad
I agree kid. All you have to think about is what makes you happy and proud.
That’s easy. Making ice-cream
I know a couple of guys that are very successful doing that.
Really? I think you’ve answered my question dad
Glad I could help kid. Now close your eyes and think about new flavors you can come up with.
Good night dad
Good night Jerry
My name isn’t Jerry
So, good night Ben
Dad? why are you calling me Ben & Jerry? Oh…
You ask tough questions kid.
Well, before we talk about good and bad, we need to answer the questions: Good and bad for whom? Good and bad for what?
That’s easy. Good for me. Good for the world.
Well, those could be two very different things. And besides, who’s the world exactly?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with good for you. What is good for you?
So think about when you were a baby. You were crying when you felt something bad and smiling when it was good. In your early days, good was just a comfortable feeling of being well fed, not being sick, hot, cold or in pain. Those are the basics. Pain, for instance, is a biological mechanism through which reality lets us know if something is bad for you. Stress, fear, depression are cognitive mechanisms that do the same.
So how did you know as a baby to decide what is good and what is bad? You had some kind of criteria. That criteria is LIFE. You have an automatic mechanism that is programmed to sustain your life. So life is the VALUE you are trying to keep and is the standard of what is good and what is bad, when to cry and when to smile.
So my life is what determines good from bad?
Yes, without that value, there is no meaning to good or bad. Without life there is no good or bad. The need for good and bad decision, or in its formal name, morality – is only for living things. Only living things have values. The universe is not good or bad – it is just there.
But as you grow up, the same thing that happened with concepts and the development of your knowledge, happens with values as they become more complex and abstract. You’re looking to be happy, to be satisfied, to be passionate about the things you do, to pursue a goal, to get that girl you adore, to work in a field you love, and get that car of your dreams (in my case). It is not just about staying alive anymore.
Suddenly, your values become more complex and challenging. They require long range planning, prioritization, and a lot of hard work. You realize that you want to pursue long-range goals. You understand that a flu shot and a dental procedure that hurt a little are actually good for you and that you have to save money in order to pay for school, buy a house or a car.
So if I do something to achieve my values it is good?
If your values are rational, then yes. Some people choose irrational values and hurt themselves.
So I can do anything I want to achieve my goals? What if you could steal money from a bank without being caught or steal the car you want?
We need to check if stealing is good or bad for me. So what does it mean to steal? It means taking someone’s property without deserving or earning it. Taking it by force, coercion or deception. So first, there is the chance of getting caught and going to prison – that is surly bad for my life. But that doesn’t cut it because I know there are ways to steal and get away with it.
So why is it still bad for me?
Well, first, I will have to lie every time someone asks me about the cat and how I got it. I will have to evade people wanting to learn more about the car and I will always be anxious when a police car drives by.
Besides, I will not be able to be truly honest about other things in life because I will be forced to choose to either give up on principles in general, or know that I am not a principled man. I couldn’t justify morally why it will be wrong to do it again. I couldn’t explain to my kid why not to steal something from a grocery store.
Practically, if you decide to steal some more and become a professional thief – it means that you will be in a constant state of anxiety, short term, whimsical, pleasure seeking mentality because you gave up on reason and thought and chose force and deception as a way of life. Your life will not be productive but more like hit and run, you’ll become superstitious, develop contempt for other people because they are suckers that you can always forcefully manipulate.
Your life will be potentially reduced to physical sex, food, pillow and drugs. You will lose your capacity for happiness, because happiness is a result of a long range action. Living by force is anti-mind and we are mind-driven beings – it just doesn’t work.
Any way you look at it, robbing a bank or stealing a car it is bad for me. It is much worse than not having the car or just saving for a couple more years to buy it.
This is a rational analysis of the situation. This is why thieves live miserable lives. They don’t save, they are not good spouses or parents, and they steal more till they get caught.
Remember when I told you that reality always strikes you back when you evade it? This is a good example.
But wait Dad, what if I do it only once and forget about it? Is that possible?
Well, let’s think about it. Can you forget about stealing the car? No. Can you push that thought aside? Yes. But then there are consequences. You must continue your life in a very unprincipled manner. But reality is principled. That means that you’ll become a pragmatist – whatever I think is right as of now, is right and good. And then, there is nothing to guide your life, you’ll just do whatever comes to you at that moment.
Stealing a car in return for subverting the entirety of your moral life is not comparable. The same goes for lying or being dishonest.
Oh, so what about lying to a criminal about where your family is? Shouldn’t you be honest and tell him where they are?
Again, let’s break it down. Good is what promotes my life. So is it good to lie to that criminal? Yes. Will it hurt my capacity to lead a moral life? No. I am protecting my values any way I can and also, everything has a context – you can’t judge something without context.
For example, you can see someone jumping in front of a train and decide he is a suicidal lunatic, but if you understand the wider context of him trying to rescue his child who was in front of that train and managed to push him away from the tracks, you suddenly realize he is a rational, moral person because he was protecting his highest value. So you have to conclude that context is very important and that there are always edges cases where acting in a way that will not make sense in other contexts, sometimes is necessary.
Wow, Dad. This is more complex than I thought.
It is kid. Life is not simple, and it is great that it isn’t. Otherwise it will be boring and automatic.
So I will go to sleep now. It is good for me.
It is definitely good for you kid. Sweet dreams.
Let me ask you this – if a lion kills a zebra in the wild, will it go to jail?
“No Dad, that’s crazy. Lions eat zebras, they do it to survive.”
“So the zebra doesn’t have the right to live?”
“I guess not… wait a minute, actually, why doesn’t it have the right to live?”
First, we have to define what rights are.
Rights are a concept that people came up with to allow us to live in a civilize society. Rights are there to protect values– things that are most important to us, like living, being free and trying to be happy.
The only reason we have the right to live is that it is the highest value a human being can hold. Without it, a person does not exist and cannot have any other value. This is why the right to live comes first and is the most important one. Other values we need in order to live a human life are freedom and property. Animals do not have those rights – we put them in cages in zoos and they don’t own anything.
So now, back to your question – why is it okay to kill animals?
First, I don’t believe it is okay to kill an animal without a reason. It is a question of values. For instance, you should ask your self: what are the values that you are pursuing or contradicting when you eat a steak?
1. You are having a good meal and you enjoy it. It helps you to survive and it might even make you happy as you enjoy the taste of the steak.
2. You are promoting animal slaughter because you are consuming the steak. That contradicts your value of being kind to other living creatures.
So what should you do? eat the steak and enjoy it, or avoid buying steaks and fight against cattle slaughter?
“I really do like steaks…”
And that is perfectly fine. So you just answered the question – it is okay to kill other animals if the killing is serving a higher value like surviving, being happy and enjoying life. If you I told you that dog meat is tasty as well – would you eat a dog?
“Never! that’s so gross”
Don’t say never – if the dog meat was the only thing you can eat, at some point you will choose to eat it as the value of survival will become relevant. This value is higher than your value of dogs, their companionship and what they represent to you.
“hmm, so everything is about what values are more important to me?”
Basically, yes. As long as you don’t violate rights of other people.
And here is the most important point here – when you’re not sure what is the right thing to do, think about what values are behind the different options you are considering. Think about what values are more important to you and then the decision will become easier. Not always, but usually this helps.
“Give me an example”
So, I was just debating if to buy myself a new car or save the money for other things like my retirement. What do you think are the two values that are represented here?
“You want to enjoy a new car, but you also want to make sure you have enough money when you’re old”
Right. It’s not an easy decision. But I decided to go ahead and buy the car, because I decided that in this case the value of enjoying the new car is more important than the additional money I will have when I am old. And besides, I thought that since you are so smart, you’ll surely become so rich that I shouldn’t worry anyway…
“Hey, that’s not fair”
Just kidding. Go to sleep, it’s getting late. I love you so much. You are my highest value.
“You’re mine too”