I began Most Good, Least Harm with these sentences: “During my sophomore year in college I embarked upon a quest for inner peace. I yearned for relief from a persistent lack of purpose and meaning in my life.” In my blog posts, I’ve periodically asked, “What is _____ for?” I’ve filled in the blank most recently with “prison” and in a previous post with “education.” The first two sentences of my book carry with them an even bigger underlying question: “What is life for?”
Religion, philosophy, science and people from all corners of the world have sought to answer this question and have come up with a range of answers: enlightenment, to serve God, to love, to give, to successfully reproduce, etc. But I wonder why we even ask this question. Why do we – many of us anyway – feel such a need for purpose and meaning? Why can’t we, like my cat, be perfectly content sleeping 20 hours a day, and playing, eating, and soliciting attention for the remaining four?
I recently watched the Canadian film, Seducing Dr. Lewis, about a tiny, coastal village in Quebec, where most residents are relying on welfare checks for survival. In order to be eligible for a factory that would employ the villagers, they need to woo a doctor to come live there for five years. It’s a great film, and I highly recommend it, but in the context of this blog post, it’s also telling. The villagers were desperate for work, even for low paying jobs that might not exceed their welfare checks, because they were desperate for purpose and meaning, self worth and inner peace. Unlike my cat, we humans don’t seem content to be served, but must contribute and earn our way to be happy.
The MOGO principle – striving to do the most good and the least harm for ourselves, other people, animals and the environment – is a way to find purpose and meaning; it helps us to discover for ourselves what our particular lives are for.
Last night, I was listening to a recent segment of the radio show, This American Life, which profiled a woman who gave a kidney to a stranger to save his life and who has since dedicated her life to being a matchmaker for kidney donors and kidney recipients. This committed woman has found her purpose and meaning.
When we decide to do the most good and the least harm; when we seek knowledge to enable us to do this; when we introspect and find the confluence between our concerns and our talents; and when we then act on our values, we derive profound purpose and meaning. We, like the villagers in Seducing Dr. Lewis, build self-respect and discover that inner peace often follows.
Funny how finding our purpose and discovering meaning in our lives inevitably contributes to a better world for others, too. The MOGO principle is a good recipe for potential enlightenment, for serving your God, for love, for generosity, and for the survival of generations to follow – in other words, for answering the question, “What’s my life for?”