ON THE MEANING OF LIFE
In the fall of 1930, historian , philosopher and author of The Story of Civilization, Will Durant (1885-1981) found himself outside his New York home, raking leaves. A well dressed man approached Durant and told him in quite tone that, unless the revered teacher could give him a valid reason not to, he intended to kill himself. Durant offered the stranger several quick reasons to live, and the man turned and left, never to be seen again.
Haunted by his encounter with the despondent stranger, Durant contacted 100 liminaries in arts, politics, religion and sciences, challenging them to respond to the fundamental question:
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Out of the hundred only few replied and they included; Theodore Dreiser, H.L.Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, John Erskine, Charles A. Beard, John Cowper Powys, M.K.Ghandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mary E.Woolley, Bertrand Russell, Count Hermann Keyserling and George Bernard Shaw.
Despite their uniqueness as individuals and the very different lives they led a consistent thread runs through their viewpoints, revealing a commonality among humans beings who not only seek meaning in life but who actually achieve it.
The book ends under a note “A personal Confession” by the author:
“This then, I should say is the road to significance: join a whole, ands work for it with all your body and mind. The meaning of life lies in the chances it gives us to produce, or to contribute to, something greater than ourselves. It needs not be a family; that, so to speak, is the direct and broadest road which Nature in her blind wisdom has provided for even the simplest soul. It may be any group that can call out all the latent nobility of the individual, and give him a cause to work for that shall not be shattered by his death. It may be some revolutionary association which a man or a woman gives devotion unstintingly. It may occasionally be some work of beauty that absorbs the soul in its making, and becomes boon to many generations. But in every case it must, if it will give a life meaning, lift the individual out of himself, and make him a cooperating part of a vaster scheme. The secret of significance and content is to have a task which consumes all one’s energies, and makes human life a little richer than before”