Why Go On?

Last week I read a statement from an aging scientist.  His suggestion was that, as we have probably passed the point of no return on the changes in our climate, we should treat our lives the way we would if we were terminal.  In other words, enjoy what’s left, celebrate music, joy, love.


It put me in a terrible depression for a long time.  How am I supposed to carry on knowing that there’s no real hope for a solution to one of the world’s most serious problems?  Why should I bother doing anything?


But I kept thinking.  What if I had been born a black slave, knowing that my mother could be taken, that there would be no way I could ever escape a life of brutal servitude? Why would that life be better than death?


What if I was a German Jew in 1942?  What if I’d been on that ship that made it to the US and was refused and sent straight back to Germany where I was sentenced to work myself to death in a camp?  Why would I want to carry on knowing the world was that indifferent to me?


What if I was a minimum wage earner in a small midwestern town?  What if I had no real sense that anything I did mattered to anyone, and that no amount of work would pull me out of my poverty and debt?  Why would I want to keep going?


This isn’t the exception.  It’s the norm.  This is how most people have to live, and it’s been like this for most of the history of our species.


Can you imagine being a hunter-gatherer 50,000 years ago?  If you’re lucky each day, you find food.  If you’re not, you or someone you love will be eaten by a wild animal.


Most people kept going because they had no expectations that life was going to be good, or work out, or be fair.  They understood that fighting whatever battle is in front of you, not winning, is what defines a life.  My privilege has kept me from learning that.


I’ve always thought I was destined for success.  I’ve assumed that somewhere I’m supposed to be important.  But what if my life was only important to the extent that I could create possibilities for the people that come after me? 


Most people just carry on. They don’t think of themselves as so important, they just want to survive.  And the contemplation of the futility of their lives is a luxury they can’t afford because it’s too exhausting, and anyway, what does it have to do with breakfast?


So despite the dire predictions about the world which I can’t refute, if I don’t live my life, enjoy what is good in it, and fight for the next group of people, I am nothing more than a narcissistic, privileged coward.  It’s time I do what most people have been doing since the beginning.  Live, and stop expecting to be rewarded for living it.



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Adam Cole is an author, educator and performer who blogs weekly on the subject of listening, creativity and artistry.  He is the director of Innovative Approaches to Music, a comprehensive look at the benefits of music learning.  To take a quiz on what kind of music warrior you are, please visit www.mymusicfriend.net


1 comment

  • Marilyn Feingold

    Marilyn Feingold

    So true, Adam. I wish you had some of your music on line so I could hear you play and sing. Marilyn

    So true, Adam. I wish you had some of your music on line so I could hear you play and sing. Marilyn

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