How Ought We Live Our Lives?

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How ought we live our lives?

That’s a basic question. But not a simple one. Some answer the question, “according to God’s plan.”

If there is a god or gods who have given an answer to this basic question, then that’s the answer: Do what your god says you should.

For those who believe in a particular god and a particular tradition, the answer is easy, even if the path may be . . . lumpy at best.

For those who believe that all the gods and traditions have value, the answer is a bit more complicated but still map-able: be eclectic and light out for the territories!

For those of us who don’t think there is, nor ever has been, a god, the answer is more complex. Still, considering the question is clarifying: How ought we to live our lives?

Humanism as a way of life confuses many people because we Humanists consider the question of how we ought to live our lives from the opposite direction than theists. We Humanists start out by looking at what human beings already do right. We look at what comes “naturally.”

Compassion. Gregariousness. A need for love . . . .

Anger. Violence. Domination . . . .

How do these natural propensities differ from the propensities of our nearest genetic relations, the chimpanzees? What about bonobos?

This is the place those inclined to criticize Humanism make a fundamental mistake. Humanists do not see humans as special. Rather, we see ourselves as another animal that has evolved on this planet.

Humanists ask: What should we do, given our evolutionary niche? What should we do given our natural tensions between being social and being individualistic? Our natural tendency to be both compassionate and selfish as all heck?

The “ought” in “How ought we to live our lives” supplies the answer to the question. We ought to act better than we sometimes initially feel like acting. We ought to stop before we strike. We ought to seek answers before we condemn the actions of others. We ought to be a helpful social animal.

It may be that we human beings are the only animals on this planet who can do battle against our naturally evolved tendencies. In the dream of how we might do better begins the responsibility of being human.