What a pebble can teach us about life’s meaning

What’s the point? What’s the point of working so hard, the suffering, of life itself? It’s asked by the unemployed, middle class, and uber-rich. It’s asked by people of all races and religions.

“What’s the point?” inevitably leads to the maddening and futile question about the meaning of life. Asking about the meaning of life is the wrong question, and made wrong by one word.

We shouldn’t be seeking the meaning “of” life, but a meaning “to” life. The distinction changes everything.

If you are seeking the point “to” something, you can’t find it in the meaning “of” something.

A shiny pebble you see in a stream has no meaning in itself. However, if you take it home as a reminder of the place where you first kissed your partner, it gets meaning. It will always remind you of that moment, and the meaning is very real and very private. The same rock can be used as a paperweight, and given a purpose. To the outside world, the purpose of the rock is that of a paperweight, as it is to you. However, its meaning is private and very different. There is no inherent meaning “of” the rock, meaning is given “to” the rock.

The meaning of the rock can be shared with your partner (oh that kiss) and remain private, however, you can never really be sure if means exactly the same thing to both. To one partner it may also represent a tinge of sadness at the end of single life. To the other, it may also represent the time they stopped being around their old school friends they miss so much. The meaning can be shared, slightly different, and also coexist with other contradictory meanings.

Purpose is a utility. What is the purpose of the rock? What purpose can you have for those scathing words?

Meaning is self-defined and private — “She means the world to me”.

Genetic biologist Dr Richard Dawkins describes our bodies as “replicating machines”. The body is essentially a vessel to allow our genes to reproduce. We exist, to reproduce. The purpose is simple, though it may sound vacuous. Our activities in life facilitate the process.

We eat, sleep, socialise and survive ultimately to reproduce, regardless of whether we do reproduce or not. That’s a big statement to be unpacked more fully in my complete book.

Returning to the rock analogy, the purpose of of our lives is like the purpose of the rock as a paperweight. The meaning is something we give it ourselves, and it’s private. Life has no meaning beyond what we give it. We give meaning “to” life just as we give meaning “to” the rock.

Meaning is now liberated so that is can be whatever you want. What’s the point? Whatever you want it to be. That gets you one step closer because without realising it, the world opens up.

The point is whatever you want it to be

The point of it all is private, so no one can define it for you.

The point can co-exist with contradictory thoughts and feelings.

You can choose to live life with meaning, or without. It will go on regardless and isn’t a right, or owed to you.

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