(anything But) Existential Indifference

I somewhat recently discovered Oliver Burkeman and have found his columns rather good. This week’s is no exception:

…Garcin is having an existential crisis, as people tend to do in Sartre. (These days, he could just pick up a copy of The Purpose-Driven Life and be done with it.) He’s facing the Big Question: how to deal with life’s apparent meaninglessness? Of course, many other philosophers, not to mention self-help gurus, would argue that life isn’t meaningless–that meaning’s to be found in family, or work, or spirituality. But intriguing new research suggests that, for a sizeable chunk of the population, a different answer to the Big Question may be more pertinent: who cares?

I’ve long been interested in meaning formation as a primary motivator of human behavior and a majority stakeholder in any person’s happiness (I’m a big fan of Frankl). As I’ve tried to parse the recent events of my life, this is often the lens I use. I’m often confused by others who appear to have this existential indifference that Burkeman refers to. On one hand, I want to be able to move through life with more aplomb. On the other hand, it sure seems like a lot of us here sharing this planet just don’t care.

Of course existential crisis is not required to do important work. I have a friend who spends a lot of time thinking about how to work better and does excellent work partly due to that intention (he’s also just a hard worker). About a year age were discussing his strategies for maintaining focus and doing meaningful work–I was just starting work on Todoblin and particularly interested (as I always am, really) in groking how people work. I asked him, “Don’t you ever have moments of existential crisis?” He just kind of gave me a look that said something like, “You speak of this ‘existential crisis’ like it’s something that actually happens to people.”

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