What is the meaning of life? Did Shakespeare know it?

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28

Did Shakespeare really write this and all of the other works we give him credit for? A recent movie Anonymous plumbs this centuries old canard again. Amazing we spend more time worrying about who said this, then what the author meant. I don’t really care if Shakespeare wrote this or some miscreant wrote it who will forever remain unnamed. The profundity of the writings and the messages in these writings will echo down the halls of history for as long as humans walk the earth. They have infinitely more meaning than we can ever fathom and it matters not one wit who wrote them.

Think about the above passage. We are but fools whose time is short and we do not recognize it. We prance and clown and pose as though we were so important that whatever we do or say really matters. Our leaders (politicians, educators and ministers) act as though their ideas and positions are the most important in the world and everyone else’s position is that of a fool. Brown eyed people are superior to blue eyed people. Conservatives are superior to liberals. Catholics are superior to Jews. Americans are superior to everyone else in the world. Rich are superior to poor. Educated are superior to uneducated. Hard workers are superior to lazy workers. We learn all of these lies and more in one monstrously and hideously orchestrated effort to make our lives have real meaning.

We (you and I and everyone else) have not the slightest clue as to what real meaning is. We don’t know the difference between fact and theory or between science and art or between a truth and a lie. However, we have experts and thousands of talking heads to tell us what the difference is. Armed with the beliefs of the righteous, we sally forth upon the stage to strut our stuff. Our scenes will be over all too shortly but for a few brief moments, we can pretend that our petty lives are so important that everything else is secondary to them. This gives us the meaning that we all seek to sort out the reason and purpose of our existence on this planet.

However, there is no real meaning in ideas or in things or in egos that depend on being right or better or greater than others. Having more stuff, being wealthier or having more money has never been a passage to meaning. Any meaning we have from these positions is like the proverbial house built on sand. We see this every day in our “heroes’ who strut briefly upon the stage only to find that a short time later they are being booed off it. Meaning does not lie in things, or status or stuff or positions.

Meaning is a process. Meaning is ongoing and never ending. Like the horizon that keeps retreating as we get closer. You never obtain meaning since you must forever be reconstructing it. It changes every day and is never the same. What has meaning for you will not have meaning for me or perhaps for anyone else. Meaning is timeless and cannot be captured or bottled. Once you “capture” meaning it is no longer meaning. Then you have status and ego. The company position you so badly wanted might have created meaning in your life as you worked diligently and faithfully toward obtaining it. However, once it was obtained, you now began to define your life by it and you slowly but inexorably lose the meaning of your life.

This is how it happens with everything we want. Once we obtain it: fame, fortune, status, a custom motorcycle, once we have it, we now have lost our purpose and the meaning (for better or worse) of our life slowly erodes. Meaning is killed by stagnation and stagnation is a position while meaning is motion. Meaning is fluid and dynamic and each day brings new meaning when we are in process. Once the process becomes a product, we are no longer in meaning. Once we are defined by what we have or what we own, we have lost our meaning. Life becomes a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.

What is the meaning of your life? Have you found your meaning? What can you do to find it if you have not yet found it? Have you ever thought you had found the meaning of life and then lost it? Why?

What if all our Mondays were like Saturdays?

I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said “either do something worth being written about or write about something worth being done.” A group of artists is doing something I think worth being written about. Part of a series of art projects called “MONDAY MORNING,” their goal is to bring some joy and happiness to the world through a series of creative art endeavors.

In Kenya, more than 10,000 bright yellow balloons were given to commuters on their way to work on a recent Monday morning with the sole request that they hold on to the balloon until they arrive at their jobs. Kenya has seen more than its share of violence and misery over the past decade and the artist Yasmany Arboleda wanted to bring some joy to the streets of Kenya. When you look at the picture, can you just imagine how this must have transformed the streets if only for a brief time?

About a year ago, a book was published called “Thank God It’s Monday” by Roxanne Emmerich. The subtitle was “How to create a workplace you and your customers love.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if every one of us could go to work each day (particularly Mondays) with an attitude of joyous expectation? An attitude that said “I can hardly wait until I get to work because I love what I do and I know I can make a difference to the world.” What if students, workers, managers and leaders all loved their job so much that they felt this way every day of the week? Impossibly idealistic? What would it take to make it happen?

Richard Bolles wrote a popular book called “The Three Boxes of Life.” The theory is that we live in 3 boxes that create a separation problem. The boxes are work, education and play. We work but it is not much fun and we do not receive much education. We play but we do not get paid or learn much. We go to school to get educated but we do little if any meaningful work and it is not much fun. What if we could put these three boxes together? I asked this question to a bunch of hard hat miners during a training session one day and I will never forget the response I received. One grizzled old timer raised his hand and said “Well, I wouldn’t know if it were Monday or Saturday.” I was stunned by the profundity and the implications of what I had just heard.

I can find all sorts of complaints about the state of American education, about the productivity of the American labor force and about the rising income inequality in the US. Solutions seem to pour forth from politicians on a daily basis. However, I do not think any of them really hit at the core of the problem. If we want to get back on track again, we need some radical thinking. What could be more radical than thinking of putting these three boxes together for every man, woman and child in our country? Can you imagine a school where students get paid to do what is fun and meaningful? Can you imagine a workplace, where learning and play take place right alongside relevant and important work? Can you imagine when play time is synonymous with time that involves learning and pay and not just watching the boob tube?
If we could put these boxes together, we could transform the nature of education, play and work. We could create a world where no one any longer cared about clocks, weekends or time off. People would be having so much fun and still paying their bills. “Thank God it’s Friday” would become an anachronism.

Do you think it cannot be done? What if we tried? Can we create a school system where kids are not bored to death? Can we create a workplace, where people are so engaged they do not want to go home at the end of the day? Can we create playgrounds all over this country where people also go to learn and get paid? Why not? Are we perhaps stymied by a Failure of Imagination?

What does a veteran do? Are all veterans heroes?

Today, lets think about what it means to be a veteran. I served four years during the Vietnam war era with the US Air force. Today, I suppose I would be called a hero but then and now I never thought of myself in those terms. Many other men and women have paid for this countries freedom with their lives or their bodies and for them the term would certainly apply. However, are all veterans heroes and what about those others who risk their lives for our country but have never served; should they be called heroes? Are the people occupying Wall Street today heroes?

In “No time for heroes” an article by Bernie Reeves (May 2001), he writes: “Yet, even the most decorated veterans of the World War II era make it clear that they did not set out to become heroes, they just did their job. Heroes, it seems, are not born but created by events. And the events have to be interpreted in the right light to qualify for hero creation.” We have seen periods in history where heroes were laughed at as romantic fools and other periods where the lack of heroes was bemoaned. Since 911, it seems that we are on the upswing, with heroism being lauded practically daily in the news or TV media.

We have anti-heroes, superheroes, cowards who become heroes and people for whom heroism is a part of their daily job. At one point, a hero was anyone who risked their life to save others when they were under no obligation to do so. We did not think of a hero or heroine as someone “just” doing their job. Today though, doctors, soldiers, nurses, fire-people and police are all hailed as heroes. There was a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson called “Richard Cory” in which everyone admired and envied the dapper and suave Mr. Cory.

In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Dr. Ossian Sweet, (1905-1960) an African American man who stood up for what he believed and was a hero by any stretch of the imagination said: “I have to die a man or live a coward.” Dr. Sweet tried his hand at politics, running four times and losing each time. He married his childhood sweetheart but divorced and remarried; the second also ending in divorce. In 1960, after years of ill health and depression, he was found dead, a bullet through his head and a revolver in his hand. It is tough work being a hero.

We admire heroes and heroines and the world is a better place because of them. We each wonder in our hearts when we hear some heroic episode what we would have done. Would we have just stood there watching or would we have run into the burning house, jumped into the icy pond or charged the raging bull. I hope that our world will always have a time for heroes and heroines and not make a mockery of their bravery by downgrading it to merely living. People who become heroes and heroines may not be any different from the rest of us, but in that one second where they act and behave differently from the crowd, it forever puts them in a new league. They may never be able to live up to the expectations that attend their heroism but we should all be forever grateful to them. Heroes and heroines show us a world that could be when selfishness and greed are cast aside for love and loyalty.

Where do heroes/heroines get the time? Where do they get the courage? How many of us would risk our lives for an idea, for someone we did not know, for a principle that most people would hate us for upholding? Are we all heroes for going about our daily lives and trying to live the best we can? Or should the label be reserved for those special men and women who put their lives on the line at a time when most of the rest of the world will just stand by watching?

What do the "signs of the time" tell us about the world we live in today?

A “sign of the times” may be the poor attitudes of teenagers today. But wait, wasn’t that a sign of the times during the days of Socrates? Perhaps a sign of the times is the “great recession” or the increased unemployment or maybe the “war on drugs” or maybe the increased road rage. A sign of the times is an expression used to denote something that seems symbolic or emblematic of the era we are living in. “Sign of the times was a phrase strongly associated with Roman Catholicism in the era of the Second Vatican Council. It was taken to mean that the Church should listen to, and learn from, the world around it.” (Wikipedia.org)

The problem is we do not have any good reference points to compare our times to. Most of us do not have a very good knowledge of history or of what happened even a few years ago. We all tend to forget how things really were. So we think: crime is worse today, teenagers are worse today, life is harder today, etc. Then we say: “it’s a sign of the times.” However, it could easily be a sign of many times and eras gone by. What then are the dependable and predictable signs that would allow us to say with certainty that our times are different (for better or worse) than past times?

Very few things really emerge that make good signs of the times. Rising costs and rising taxes have been true forever. War, famine and pestilence were frequent during the days of the Pharaohs and are still with us today. Disease kills millions yearly and people do not really seem any less or more happy than in days gone by. Is life easier or more difficult? You would probably notice that it depended on who you asked. How then can we find a true and accurate “sign of the times?” Bottom line is you will probably not. The idea sounds good on paper but it is just too subjective. There are few signs that exist today that could irrefutably tell you what year or even decade it was, without the value of hindsight. Twenty years from now, it will be possible to look back at today and say things about it with some certainty but the present is never certain. That is why the past cannot predict the future.

We seem to dwell on the “bad signs” but maybe you can think of some good signs of the times. For instance, income levels are rising across the world and many diseases have now been eradicated that plagued humanity for centuries. What do you think are the signs of the time today? How would these compare to your signs twenty years ago? Do you think your signs would hold up if you went back two thousand years? Will these still be signs five or ten years from now? When do signs become obsolete? Do your signs tell you that things are better or worse today?

How does time move in your life? Are you on Arrow Time or Cycle Time?

Time’s Arrow is a conception of time visualized as an arrow. “A metaphor apparently first used by Sir Arthur Eddington in 1927. This conception has not always been the commonsense view; the ancient Greeks, for example, thought that time consisted of a series of cycles, without beginning or end.” (Paul Davies, New Scientist, 11-1-1997, Issue 2106). In Christianity, time has a more linear sense than in Buddhism or Hinduism. Christians believe that if they lead a good life, they will die and go to heaven. “Hinduism believes in the rebirth and reincarnation of souls. In Hinduism, death is a temporary cessation of physical activity, a means of recycling the resources and energy and an opportunity for the jiva (that part which incarnates) to review its programs and policies (http://www.hinduwebsite.com ). Buddhists have a somewhat similar view to Hindus in that they believe only the body dies but the soul seeks out a new form and is born again.

These views of time as either cyclical or linear (an arrow) seem to be more dependent on where we were born or the religion we embrace than on any actual evidence that time goes one direction or another; or for that matter that time even exists except in our minds. The way we approach the world in Western society appears to be very different than in Eastern societies with a more cyclical view of life. Throughout our lives, we bounce between these two views of time. We live by circadian rhythms but we measure our time in a linear fashion until retirement and old age. We laugh at the inevitable cycles of fads and fashions and trends but we watch in dismay as the new generation replaces the old and throws out the culture and traditions we so cherished. We live by clocks where time goes round and round and by calendars where time is as straight as an arrow measuring each of the 365 days in a year that in one year will be replaced by the next year.

What does “time’s arrow” really mean? For most of us, it might seem to be just an abstraction that hardly affects our daily lives unless we stop for a few minutes and reflect on it. Upon reflection, we can see that it actually does have quite a bit of impact. Our economics, politics, governments and health care are built on a conception of time as either cyclical or linear. Each and every one of us is affected by our own personal view of how time progresses. The choices we make and the lives we live are determined by the way we view time. Even our attitude is based on how we perceive time. We view Mondays as very different from Fridays and Saturday and Sunday are quite different days for many of us.

Do you see time as linear and measure it as running out and running down? Or do you see time as a never ending series of cycles that continually repeat? Will you be born again or will you simply die? What if you could change how you saw time? What difference would it make in your life? Would you lead your life any differently?

What is a "time trap?"

The “time trap” is an expression we have all heard before, but what is a “time trap?” What exactly qualifies something for being a time trap? Is a time trap like a mouse trap where time runs in and can’t get out? Or is it only a figurative illusion for something that eats our time up? Is it simply a person, place or thing that captures our time and will not let it go?

It’s barely yours on loan
What you think you own
The place that you call home
The ideas in your bones (in your bones)
This would still feel dumb
Back where you’re from
Do you (do you) want to change your mind
Do you want to change your mind
Cause you could never know that
In a time trap
In a time trap (Lyrics by the Built to Spill Band)

Some things that come to mind as time traps for me are the following: working on a computer bug, a wedding, working in the yard, doing a word puzzle or cleaning up the house. Time traps are things that unexpectedly capture our time or use up more of our time than we had originally allocated. For some of us, time traps are a routine hazard of life. Just like sand traps on a golf course, we see them, but can’t avoid them. Once we fall into them, they are very difficult to get out of. Of course, this metaphor suggests that we want to avoid them and that may not be the case. Many of us like to find some type of activity to spend our time on and for us, it is not a time trap. It all becomes very relative. One person’s trap is another persons passion.

What constitutes a time trap for one of us might be a joyful use of time for another. What are those things in your life that you consider “time traps?” How do you avoid or get out of them? How often do you still fall into them?

Do you know the difference between a futurist and a prophet? Or how risk plays a role in the way we treat time?

Futurists or prophets – do you know the difference? The World Future Society is an organization of people (Futurists) who attempt to look at the future through a variety of tools. Forecasting, scenarios and environmental scans are all methods of trying to extract possible futures from present and predicted trends. Of course, many times there are “discontinuities” that are not predicted or even predictable. Hurricanes, earthquakes, assassinations, and deaths can radically alter the best laid plans or projections. Thus, futurists do not attempt to proscribe the future as much as set out a variety of possible scenarios given what is currently known about the world.

Prophets on the other hand are more artistic and less logical. Their knowledge about the future appears to come from some inner vision or perhaps inspired vision. The ancient Greeks would go to the Oracle at Delphi to find out what the future held for them. Legend has it that the Oracle or Oracles were generally very obtuse with their predictions. Even back then, they did not want a negative prediction being held against them. Thus, you could infer many different possibilities from visiting with the Oracle. The same thing could be said today about spiritualists, palm readers, tarot card readers and astrologists. Most of the interpretations of these “seers” could be viewed from a variety of possibilities and outcomes.

Then we have the Weather Forecasters! Those seers who attempt to tell us whether we will have a nice weekend or a rotten one. Of course, this often depends on what weather you would prefer to have. Myself, I love a nice rainy and stormy day. Karen (my spouse) would prefer it be warm and sunny year round. That is why we are now snow- birding between Arizona and Wisconsin.

People have been trying to predict the future since the time of Adam and Eve. Have you ever thought about why we keep trying or why we so desperately want to know the future? It probably seems evident with just a little thought that we all want to reduce risk. By knowing what is coming, we can make contingency plans or know what to avoid or at the very least, feel more confident today. Or so we would like to think. We all want more control over our lives, but as history has shown, this is an elusive goal. Moreover, if we did achieve it, we would be bored silly. Risk brings excitement and adventure. Would you really want to get up each day knowing exactly what was going to happen to you today, tomorrow and the next day? Would you want to know the day and means of your death? How much risk are you comfortable with in your life? How do you attempt to predict your future? Do you go to seers or fortune tellers? Do you think it will rain or snow today?

Does history just keep repeating itself or does your vote really matter?

So, does history repeat itself and is Heraclitus wrong when he says that “we never step in the same river twice?” There seems to be considerable evidence on both sides. Santayana said that: “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it” and Hegel said that: “What experience and history teach is this-that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.” Both Hegel and Santayana imply that history keeps repeating itself because of the folly of humans. We do not learn from putting our hand in the fire so we keep getting burned when we put our hand back in the fire. The constant wars between people would seem to validate this rather negative view of humans.

A good friend of mine had a sign over his desk that read: “There are no mistakes, only lessons to be learned.” I loved his optimistic and hopeful view that we can learn from our mistakes and continue to see life as one big school. Nevertheless, there is an abundance of people who do not want to go to school or who think that once they have finished school, they never need pick up a book again. Marx once said that “religion was the opiate of the masses.” Today, it seems that sports are the opiate of the masses.

Millions of people watch TV daily to view basketball, soccer, football, golf, tennis, hockey, baseball, and now NASCAR racing. How many of these same people will watch any political debates, documentaries, The History Channel or take a class again in some new subject or language? How many will care enough to learn about the politicians who make decisions over their lives. How many will bother to learn the “statistics” of the candidates the same way they learn the stats on their favorite players? We complain about our politicians as being unreliable and weak, but how many of us blame ourselves for the government we get? I once heard it said that “people get the government they deserve.” If most of us would rather watch the latest football game, should we really condemn the mediocrity of the politicians we elect? My students tell me that “sports are more interesting then the debates.” They fail to understand the long term significance of their input into the political system. I am sure you have heard people who say “my vote really does not matter.”

I like the thought that you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. You may not agree with the Occupiers, but at least they are trying to be part of a solution. What have you done lately to take part in your government? How much effort do you spend on learning about the people running for office? Do you spend money on campaign contributions or do you just let the “big shots” fund the candidates? What are you doing to help stop history from repeating itself?

Is there anything new under the sun?

Time and time again! We make the same mistakes over and over again. We say that history repeats itself. Styles return and fashions go in cycles. Some of us believe we will be born again and others believe in reincarnation. The same people give us the same headaches time and time again. Is there anything new under the sun or is life simply one big process of recycling? What does it mean to be new or different? When we think we are being unique, are we simply copying an earlier style or idea? Who among us has had an idea that has never been thought of before? We have here the makings of an age old argument wherein there are those who believe that there is nothing new under the sun and those who like Heraclitus (535 BC) say “we never step in the same river twice.” The Chinese invented an early form of vaccination four thousand years ago and the Romans had an early form of air conditioning. Are old ideas simply recycled and modernized to be labeled like the “New Improved Tide.” We all know it is the same old Tide, with a new package.

On the other hand, how could we be living in the world today if not due to brand spanking new ideas? Satellites, automobiles, computers, cell phones, blogs, and myriad other products and services did not exist more than 100 years ago. How could these all be simply old ideas recycled? This question forces us to think about the definitions of new and old. New ideas surely stem from old ideas and many ideas were first thought of hundreds if not thousands of years ago. However, it is one thing to think of an idea and another thing to bring it to fruition. Many of the products and services we have today would not have been possible even decades ago. They would not have had the supply, production, distribution or technology to create the products and services we so casually enjoy today. No, I say give the old it’s due but today is not the past. I agree with Heraclitus, “You never step in the same river twice.”

What is one thing that you feel is truly new in your life? What is one thing different about your life from anyone else in your family? What is something that you think is unique about today’s world that differentiates it from the world of your ancestors? Do you think we are making progress in the world, staying in the same place or falling behind?

Do you need to "watch" your time better? How about I sell you a new watch?

Time is what we all need to watch, at least according to the special advertising supplement that was in the USA edition of the Times on October 23, 2011. The title of this supplement was “Watch Your Time” and it was full of exotic and extraordinarily expensive wrist watches. At a time when many people have lost their jobs and homes, it seems unbelievable that anyone could advertise 68 pages of watches that are worth more than many houses. Breguet, Longines, Audemar Piguet, Gucci, Dior, Piaget, Harry Winston, Bulgari and Chopard are just a few of the luxury watches that were advertised. My favorite was a Van Cleef & Arpels called “Landscape with Elephant.” It had a white gold case, elephant set with diamonds and a mother of pearl sculpted background with more diamonds and enamel depicting a jungle setting. Unlike my Casio, it did not have a stop watch, countdown timer, backlight, alarm or running mode. The price was listed at 77,900 Euros which I guess is about $106, 358 US dollars. I tried finding it on EBay or Craigslist but did not have much luck. I don’t think Karen would have liked it anyway as she is not a big watch fan. (The median price for a home in Arizona City was $109, 542 dollars in 2009. My guess is it’s about $20,000 less today or closer to $89, 000 dollars)

Now if you are expecting me to decry the rampant excesses of capitalism or the greedy pride of bankers and Wall Street tycoons that sport such paraphernalia, you had better turn to another blog. A friend of mine once reminded me to be grateful to the people that can afford such “wretched excesses” since they keep the economy going. Do you remember when shortly after 9/11, President Bush exhorted the American public to get out there and spend since it was good for the country? I wonder if the WSO should not simply be exhorting the 1% percent to spend more. Perhaps that is the real solution to the economic problems that we are now facing. The rich simply are not spending enough of their hard earned cash. As proof, I noticed that the Van Cleef & Arpels watch I wanted to buy was only offered in a limited edition of 22 units. I think if the rich were buying more, they could make more of these watches and sell more.

The real issue I have with the notion of exotic luxury time pieces is that they are so passé. In the first place, they are not as accurate as cellphones and they are usually clumsy to put on and take off. I already mentioned their limited functionality (at least compared to my Casio, which is also shock resistant, I should add). It makes me wonder why anyone buys a watch simply to look at or to hope others look at. I have always chosen function over form. I am less concerned with what something looks like and more with what it will do. Of course, I am reminded by Karen that watches are a fashion item now and not just for telling time. Still if I had a watch like the Van Cleef, I would have to wear a t-shirt that read: “Please look at my extraordinarily expensive watch, that I spend an entire year working to own.” The heck with being humble! I guess that is what really separates the rich from the nouveau riche. Unless you have had 3 or more generations of being rich, you would want the world to notice your Guccis, Ferraris and Rolexes, at least I would. Perhaps most of you would be more subtle. I presume some of you might skip the watch and pay off your mortgage or student loan. Just remember, paying bills is not good for the economy.

Do you value form or function? Do you wear a watch? What does the style of a watch tell you about anyone? Does having money and stuff make us better people? If I gave you a $100,000 dollar watch for a gift, what would you do with it?

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