For the past few weeks, I’ve been actively seeking the profound. A little gem of wisdom I can hold on to, an epiphany that subconsciously fuses itself into all decisions I make for decades to come. And one day, as I reflect on the inevitably colorful life that follows, I can trace it back to the singular moment that changed it all. Perhaps I’ll even develop a nice rhetoric—have a story to tell my technology-drunk great grandchildren, and thus give them the proverbial 2 cents that changes their history from that moment onwards.
What I didn’t imagine was for that moment to happen during a nature documentary on the yearly mating and migration patterns of the Emperor Penguin. Case in point: reality and expectations rarely overlap. That aside, really think about the penguins for a minute. They have it rough—and I mean honestly awful. They walk (waddle) for hundreds of miles, fight tooth and nail (beak?) for the chance to procreate, starve for months while bracing the Antarctic cold, all in the almighty pursuit of…keeping the species alive. Now don’t get me wrong. That’s absolutely a noble pursuit—and arguably, a primary driving force behind us as well. But if all my parents had to their entire existences, if all I had to MY entire existence, was to create and foster the growth of a wee one—well, I’m damn sure I wouldn’t be handling it with as much grace as our little, tuxedo-bird friends.
But then, what exactly IS our driving force? Though not quite as black and white (insert penguin pun here) as other species, we have some underlying consensus on it. Ask any five humans—however similar or dissimilar they may appear—what their life’s purpose is. Besides the occasional smart-alecks and their “pursuit of wealth”, many will give you an ambiguously good-willed response that falls somewhere along the lines of “helping the future of mankind.” And if you pick five people with a particular knack for detail? There is still a common thread, and it comes down to one thing: self-actualization. The realization of everything a person imagined themselves and by default, their surroundings being, and the ability to alter the world to fit their unique idea of “better.”
It’s an amazing thing. It’s the reason behind mankind’s exponential rate of progress in everything from the arts to the sciences, and its greatest results humbly acknowledged by things like the Nobel Prize, Halls of Fame. But even if you are lucky enough to see your moment of self-actualization fulfilled, reality is fleeting. History grows obsolete and what was once the unarguable truth is later known as an erroneous and silly assumption (I’m looking at you, Columbus). And if you think like that, there’s really no point to anything you do, at all. I know. March of the Penguins is deceptively depressing.
However, as with most things, there is a silver lining. We might not have the purpose of humanity entirely figured out, but what we can have is an irrevocable faith in is the power of the Domino Effect. What have you done in this lifetime? Raised a child? Held down a job? Smiled and spontaneously treated a stressed, fellow Starbucks patron? However large or small, our actions have the propensity to create something great if not directly, through an indirect weave that is uniquely, complexly human. Your moment of self-actualization stimulates the development of someone else’s formulation of truth as they know it, and from all this, maybe the “truest truth” will eventually come to fruition. And the opportunity to contribute to something like that? An honor.