Imagine you’re at a train intersection which bifurcates. 5 helpless women are tied up on one of the train tracks, and that will be the intended path of the incoming train. 1 sturdy man is tied up on the other train track, and you are given a choice on whether you want to pull the lever to divert the train from its original path, such that the number of deaths is reduced. What will you do? This infamous train pulley question has invoked much controversy, with some trying to shun responsibility and opt to ignore the lever, while some “Samaritans” choose to pull it, bringing the man to a gruesome death. Regardless of this confusion over a virtual philosophical scenario, there is however one thing that is certain. Death is inevitable.
Throughout our entire life in increasingly meritocratic societies, what is our self-worth based on? Society favours the smartest, the best, the greatest, and has placed great pressure on youngsters to excel in their academia, in order to secure a bright future. We have been repeatedly told that we have to work hard for school, to be the cream of the crop and to climb further up the progress ladder. This presents a stunningly worrying over-generalisation that everyone is suited to rise up the ranks, and become full-fledged officers, respectable doctors and revered scientists. Evidently, we know that this is definitely not the case. After all, a society is made up of various strata, comprising of many cogs in a machine, and an assembly line of workers, working tirelessly to bring forth economic progress in a country. The continuous inculcation of the mindset that grades is the ultimate goal, will only serve to discourage the less academically inclined. It is no surprise that Singapore has one of the lowest happiness index; after all, what difference is it from an authoritarian regime if everyone is forced to place grades as the top priority all the time?
With ballooning stress levels in various countries that stems from the aforementioned reason, we soon question our own existence. Do we exist for a meaning, however well-embedded, or do we simply live to fulfil expectations? It does worry some that our existence is merely but a means to an end, an engineered robot intricately designed to excel and work for society, with our manual code tailored to suit society’s needs. Death may seem the most attractive option here, for it is near-death where we finally seek solace from a competitive and heartless world, where we finally take some time out to contemplate on the most meaningful moments in our life, and when we finally fork out some precious times with our loved ones beside us, the quiet supporters. I am not arguing that we should all seek death now in order to find a respite from life; no, that is simply selfish, irresponsible and a sign of the weakest. I am saying that when one is down with a debilitating illness, or when one is nearing the end of their golden years, on their death bed and reminiscing the many beautiful moments, that is the time when time is most meaningfully spent. We are most alive when we are dying.
Imagine a close relative who passed away recently. When you recall the bittersweet memories that may have been spent together, do you get a sudden epiphany that nothing in life is worth living for, except for your loved ones? After all, who actually remembers their secondary school report cards, their business reports and their dissident presentations? We have too often been criticized that we are very worthless, and that all our efforts are insignificant. But do they really matter in the big picture? Do we really have to invest so much effort into doing something which even we may not feel truly for? I believe that as time goes by, with the demise of more people around us, we may start to realise the true meaning of life from these deaths, and start painting our own picture, instead of recreating Van Gogh’s Starry Night. There is no more time left.
Hence, I will like to urge everyone to find meaning in all your experiences, and make sure that you find enjoyment in all your ventures. Grades and numbers are undoubtedly important in what you currently do, but when you do fail, do not be disillusioned, and be resilient. God never lauds those who accomplish tasks without appreciating its inherent value. God only favours those who invest effort in their work, and garner spiritual fulfilment from what they do.
Arnold Schopenhauer, a renowned philosopher has been known to mention that “human life is all about suffering”, and he would have advocated for a fast death if possible, to bring happiness and satisfaction for everyone. He would have made the train do a U-turn.