But what about when you’re 86?

I always want to talk people but ask them invasive, personal questions. I’m really bad at that filler stuff, and not in the “I suck at it but do my best and it’s passable” sort of way. I overhear conversations all the time, perhaps I’m nosey, and marvel at how often people can force words out of their mouth without really saying much of anything. It’s annoying in an envious sort of way. I usually choose a side and pretend I’m in the conversation. Each response beyond hi, is baffling to me. My go to example was when a friend and I were out to lunch and an old friend of his saw us. She walked up and said hi. They did the whole “what have you been up to?” thing and she said something about hairdressing. Now, immediately, I was 100% out of the conversation. I don’t have anything against hairdressers, but that isn’t an interest and nothing about it is for me. My friend feels the same exact way – I know because he told me so after – but he talked about hairdressing for a good 15 minutes, asked all sorts of questions, and seemed genuinely interested to the point where I thought he might be hanging up the guitar and enrolling in hair school. I literally just stared, the entire time.

What would I have said if I could have said anything? I would have asked if cutting hair gives this person’s life meaning. Or if it’s a means to some other end that will lead to meaning and fulfillment.

I’m not entirely sure why one of my first thoughts is, if you were your own grandchild, would you give a shit about the story of your life? It’s not so much about legacy, it’s about the fact that I want the people I care about to think i did something worthwhile because I value their judgment.

One reason I think I wonder is because I’m looking for different roads to take to meaning. I’m on this one in which philosophers and scientists and artists talk about meaning all over the place, but the average person walking down the street, cutting hair, styling hair, coloring hair and whatever else you can do to hair, I don’t know what those people think about meaning. If they care, though I bet they do, and how they approach fulfillment. If it’s borne out through material objects or spiritual beliefs or worthy activities. Family, friends, goals, activities, ideas, beliefs. I’d like to know how many ways there are to get to the good life.

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But what about when you’re 86?

8 thoughts on “But what about when you’re 86?

  1. just keep yourself happy and people around you happy…don’t have any grudes and yahoo and always give without expecting something in return….. and behold…….a lovely happy life….

  2. Hi, there. Me again. 🙂

    I don’t think it would ever hurt to challenge people with something like this. You never know, they may have the opinion you’re seeking or you may provoke a thought that sends them in their own direction.

    However, I don’t think fulfillment is ever singular or one dimensional. In this case, if this person were to be a hairdresser for the rest of her life, that wouldn’t be her only legacy. Perhaps she starts her own business and is able to send her children and grandchildren to college or take really long family vacations. Maybe they also volunteered at a women’s shelter giving haircuts to the homeless, et cetera. Your job title doesn’t make your life, it’s all the things you’re passionate about and where you direct that passion. If you spend all your money on a medical degree and decide to spend three months out of every year helping out a third world country, would you say that would be fulfilling? If so, was it because of all the time you spent in school obtaining the degree, or all the people you helped who wouldn’t have been able to obtain it otherwise?

    1. I always appreciate your comments (for many reasons). Oftentimes you point out when I fail to make myself clear. I definitely didn’t want to make the impression that I thought fulfillment needed to follow a single path or was one dimensional. As I said in the post, if cutting hair didn’t provide meaning, perhaps it was a means to an end. Like someone who works a 9-5 while auditioning to get her acting career off the ground.
      The entire reason I want to ask people about fulfillment in the first place is to expose myself to more and more points of view on what that question even means (or if most people think about it much at all).
      I hope that makes my point less ambiguous.

    1. I’m fairly torn on this question. I have never been able to argue, or find a quality argument, against Peter Singer and his principles. I’m also (probably) a utilitarian. But I’m not sure how much any of that should play a role in fulfilling or meaningful lives.
      I think the normative models of practical reasoning fall a little short though. I, as of now, agree with the line, “meaning arises when subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness.”
      An example of someone well known who fits this model would be Einstein. He dedicated part of his life to understanding how the world works, a pursuit that is objectively attractive (meaning attractive to those other than Einstein) and he cared about things other than himself.
      I’d say a whole lot of people live fulfilling lives in some way. Slightly removed from judging other people, and using the bipartite conception of meaningfulness, it gets difficult. I don’t know if it’s really possible to hit the equal consideration of interests mark. And then the effort would have to be enough (and I have no real problem with appreciating the effort, though that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” line does ring a bit true when thinking about justifications).

      Hmm, not sure how helpful any of what I said was. So I summarize with, I think a lot of people live fulfilling lives (though I think a lot of people lie to themselves about it, too).

      1. Dare I ask what caused your questioning or why you feel like you’re not currently living up to your own standard?

        I feel everyone falls into a mundane routine and become content or “settle.” I think people like a rhythm because they feel they’re in control. However, we’ve all watched this illusion crumble somewhere along the way and people experience some sort of crisis.

        I recently had a friend who got her tongue pierced because she was freaking out about how old she was getting (she’s 37). When I questioned her thought process after the fact, she understood that it was irrational, but the thrill of doing something young people do these days made her feel she was of some significance to today’s society. It seems silly, but I understood.

      2. I’m not sure when I said I was not currently living up to my own standard. I mentioned the bipartite conception of meaningfulness and Peter Singer’s principles, so maybe you were referring to those standards? If so, I was commenting on the possibility for anyone to reach them, not just me. And still, I’m not sure reaching them really matters when it comes to meaning.
        I see a lot of routine and settling as well. When I was a child I remember thinking that no parents I ever met seemed to enjoy themselves. Or, perhaps more accurately, none seemed to be living the life they wanted. I’m sure many were happy and found meaning in their lives, and that simply wasn’t noticeable to me from my outside perspective. But either way, it looked like a lot of adults gave up on something that meant a lot to them.

        I understand your friend’s desire as well, but I worry things like getting a piercing or tattoo are superficial. I don’t know the details of your friend’s life so perhaps she is rather happy and feels pretty good about all the things she’s doing. If that’s the case, then I see no problem with what she did. But generalizing a little bit, I think people tend to do stuff like that when they are unsatisfied with how their lives are going. (The midlife crisis, I guess.) And instead of making any actual changed to remedy that problem, they cover it up with acting out in some shallow way. (Partying/drinking, piercings, affairs, cars, etc.)

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