What if death was a key to living well?
The ancient philosopher, Socrates, had a very different view on death than those of his time and the people of today. While many of us are here worrying about the things that come following this life, Socrates fully embraced his final days. As it’s relayed in The Apology, Socrates believed we couldn’t know what death was like and, therefore, there was no reason to worry. This meant living life to the fullest and accepting death when it came.
“ For this fear of death is indeed the pretence of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being the appearance of knowing the unknown; since no one knows whether death, which they in their fear apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good” -Socrates in the Apology
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about death and how much time I have left. The more I consider the idea, the more I agree with Socrates.
We Have A Very Limited Knowledge of Life and Death
At some point during human history, we developed the ability to consider ourselves and the lives we live. While this appears to be above the capabilities of all other animals, it remains a long way from having even a fraction of understanding of this world. With each apparent answer we dig up, many more questions arise. Every time we start to think we know something about this universe, we’re reminded how little we actually know.
I believe this lack of understanding applies to death as well. I have no idea what lies at the end of this life. The unknown in this situation can be scary. It’s natural to have some fear of things we can’t expect or prepare for, but I think we must also do our best to focus on the potential to approach death gracefully. We can embrace the act of moving on or we can fear it, but as of right now, we can’t prevent it.
Death Gives Living Value
We all want more time, more money, and better skills. These are things we perceive will make us happier and we want to attain as much as we can. These issues are only important to us because we’ve created a perceived limitation about them. If we all had forever to meet our goals, there would be no sense of urgency. Similarly, if we believed money was easy to attain, we would have no need to strive for more of it. Every goal we create has to be pushed by some perceived limitation.
It is possible to argue for or against these limitations, but the perspective you choose will almost certainly affect how you perceive the opposing situation. If we choose to see death as an end, it becomes easy to judge your life in terms of winning or losing. However, if we decide to see death as a continuation of our experience, life becomes a process of change we experience as we pass through. With this view, life becomes a marathon where we get to enjoy the good times and understand the bad. In this way, our lives become less about accomplishing and more about experiencing the world and ourselves.
As It Currently Stands, We Will All Die One Day
It’s possible that someone will find a way to help humans live forever, but it’s difficult to know if that will happen during our lifetimes. All we know is that, for now, we will all die. We will all go through the death process in one way or another. It’s something we must be willing to acknowledge. With each moment of our time, we’re moving toward this final goal. We’ll never get these moments back. We’ll never know what might have happened if we had done things differently. These are the truths we must accept for the time being, and I find a certain joy in that. A menu with hundreds of options can easily become overwhelming, causing us to question our decisions. Similarly, when we get to choose the best outcome for every moment of our lives, the decisions themselves become less meaningful and less joyful.
What If We Look At Death As A Necessary To Living Well?
Socrates believed in living virtuously in the face of death. He believed good people would always do the right thing, even if it led to their own death. In his view, death could be considered essential to living virtuously. His contemplation and embrace of death allowed him to live beyond pure survival. Life became about more than making it one more day. It became an opportunity to grow, to change, to live how he wanted to live. He shows us that we often need to question our deepest fears to live life according to our truest values.