The Purpose of Life

Image courtesy of godserv via Creative Commons.
I spent two days at a wonderful conference in honor of the ToDo Institute’s 20th anniversary. Titled Thirty Thousand Days, the conference explored how we can best spend our time on earth (on average 30,000 days). It was a powerful weekend with excellent speakers and fascinating participants, and I was delighted to have been asked to provide a keynote address on making choices in our lives to do the most good and the least harm.

Gregg Krech, the executive director of the ToDo Institute gave several powerful presentations. in one, he shared this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well." How different this quote is from what we are often urged to consider as our purpose: our own personal happiness.

As readers of this blog know, I am often bemoaning today’s prevailing purpose of schooling, which is usually something along the lines of preparing students to find jobs and compete in the global economy. Like the concept of personal happiness, this educational goal stresses and focuses on individual personal success. And like the concept of personal happiness, I don’t believe it is enough, which is why I believe that the purpose of schooling ought to be to provide our students with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be solutionaries for a peaceful, healthy, and humane world for all people, animals, and the environment.

Of course we want to be happy, and we want our children to be able to support themselves. But Emerson’s quote offers a deeper, more meaningful, more worthy, and ultimately, a more joy-inducing purpose.

Humane education – which seeks to fulfill the higher purpose of schooling described above – may well put Emerson’s quote into practice by educating a generation who will be useful, honorable, and compassionate, and who will make a positive difference in the world.

~ Zoe

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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