Give me an example of a true purpose that lies within yourself? If your purpose is being a loving father, than the meaning of that purpose is to offer love, protection, … to your children. If you make a self-propelled combine harvester, you do that for the farmers who use it and for the people who are fed by the grains that are harvested. If you’re a musician, you need an audience. Do you write a book solely for yourself or for the people you’d like to inspire? Surely, a book does not make you rich?
In many purposes there is also selfishness. Or vanity. Being a loving father makes you feel good. Helping someone gives you a sense of purpose, worth, identity … But that’s OK. There’s no harm in benefiting from doing something for someone else. Viktor Frankl wrote about his experiences as a prisoner in a concentration camps. He described that there was humanity in those dire circumstances. Sharing a piece of bread with a fellow prisoner was an act of kindness. That small act gave a sense of dignity to the one who gave it. Listen to Viktor Frankl
There’s an African Philosophy Ubuntu (or is it life wisdom) that says that we live thanks to the other. Also in Western Philosophy the relationship between me and the other is a key theme (Buber, Sartre, Camus, …). Psychology has discovered that your mental development is triggered by interaction with others. You cannot healthily exist without the other. You define yourself, based on the interactions with the other.
With what Purpose?
One key element of human nature is empathy (read De Waal to see it’s more a primate thing, than only a human thing). Empathy helps us to feel what the other feels and to act upon it.
There are some ’empathopaths’ who lack that feature. They are either extremely introverted (like in autism) or psychopaths. I apologize for this diagnostic simplification.
The fact that you need others to be successful, to be happy, to lead a meaningful life comes out at the end of your life. Two of the 5 regrets of people (as described by Bronnie Ware) in the last phase of their life is about not having given enough attention to others, mostly family and friends.
Imagine that you ask only one question to people “with what purpose are you doing this or that” (I’ve learnt this from John Whitmore) and you keep repeating that question regardless of the answers, you end up most of the time on an existential level, where the other plays a significant role. Try it.
This blog is based on a discussion in the Linkedin Group on Employee Engagement.