What is the Meaning of Life?
No. 1 - Introduction-The Bus Ride
by Ernest O'Neill
What is the meaning of life, this life that we're now living? Why are we here? What's the purpose of it? Maybe you say to yourself, "Ahh, give me a break. What is the meaning of life?! I can't tackle that this evening." Well, let's begin to talk about it together just in a casual way. We can carry on the conversation tomorrow. What is the meaning of life?
What is the point of being here? You're staring, perhaps, at the stop-lights in front of you. Why? You're perhaps on your way home to dinner. Why? Why are you here? Why have you ever ended up on this planet at all? What is the point of it ? Maybe you say, "Look, that's too big a question. I can't tackle that! I have other questions that have to be answered. How can I pay my bills next week to the electric company? How can I get my salary in time? How can I buy food for this evening's meal? I have other questions that are more pressing than that."
Yet, isn't it true that we've kept putting that question off day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, until you've arrived at your present situation where your life may be one-third, a half or even three-quarters over. Still, you don't have a very good answer to the question, "What is the meaning of life?"
Maybe, like me, you thought you'd form a philosophy of life. Perhaps in the first twenty years of your existence you lived by that philosophy. Yet, it is amusing how many of us have failed to establish a philosophy of life that will even guide us through a day or a week, let alone a whole lifetime. You may say, "Well, why bother? I mean, life is here to be lived. Why work out what the meaning of life is? Why deal with the question of a philosophy of life?"
Well, there are several plain, obvious reasons. One you could find illustrated in this story. Let's imagine, for instance, that one of those large touring buses draws up at the door of your house someday, and there is a whole crowd of us on it. We're calling you to come get into the bus. It swings out onto the main road, then gets onto the motorway and begins to cruise down the motorway at about 65 miles an hour.
Then you turn around to someone and say, "Now where is this bus going?" They say, "Ahh, don't worry about that! There's some food in the back. Let's break out the sandwiches, break out the drinks and let's enjoy ourselves." So you go along with that and think, "Everybody else is doing it, so let's do it." You break out the sandwiches; you break out the drinks; you have a really good time.
You enjoy the food and then the people start singing. You join in the singing. Then later on, as it gets toward evening, you turn around to this person again. You say, "But wait a minute. Where is this bus going? Why are we in it?" He replies, "Don't worry about that. Let's just sing a few more songs. Then we'll get some more drinks." So you go along with it and it gets to night time. So you lie back in the seat and you begin to relax. You have some kind of a night's sleep and you wake up in the morning.
The bus is still trundling down the freeway at 65 miles an hour. Then, you lean over to the person in front of you, because you've decided the guy beside you doesn't know what he's about. You say, "Listen. Where is this bus going? Why are we on it?" That guy says, "Don't worry about that. Let's just keep cleaning the windows. Let's keep enjoying ourselves. Let's keep eating and sleeping. That's all we need to do."
As the hours of the days go by, you get more and more frustrated. Gradually, other people get frustrated. In fact, after about twenty years, the anxiety becomes unbearable, and everybody is not having just as good a time in the bus as they were having. Some of them are sick. Some of them have died and been thrown off the bus. Some of them have become enemies of each other and get on each other's nerves. Some crowd together in one corner to protect themselves against the others. Some people have no food and others have too much.
Yet, as children begin to be born to people in the bus, they are told by their parents, "Just keep on cleaning the windows. Keep on singing. Keep on laughing. Keep on having a good time. That's all you need to do." Even as the children ask the question, "But what's the point of it? Where are we going? Why are we on the bus?" gradually, everybody begins to get a very anxious, worried feeling that no one really knows the answer to that question.
People begin to wonder, "Is there any reason to it at all? Is there any meaning? Is there any point in being on this bus? Is this bus ever going to arrive anywhere, or is it going to go on and on forever? Gradually, of course, it begins to strike some of us that there is only one way to get off the bus. We have seen that that way has worked for others. We've begun to consider the possibility for own lives, because the only way to get off this bus is to die and to be thrown off it.
So gradually, more and more of us start to study the question of death and suicide, how to end this nightmare that we're involved in that has no meaning at all. That's one of the good reasons for beginning to think about the question, "What is the meaning to life? Why are we alive, or what is the purpose of your being here on earth?" If we don't attempt to get some kind of answer that is half-sane, we ourselves will begin to consider what more and more people are thinking about in our western world. Hideous though the thought may be, more and more people in our western world are considering suicide.
In a sense, we're on a spaceship that is travelling through space at thousands of miles an hour. It will surprise you, perhaps, to realise that the greatest killer of school children in the United States is suicide. It seems that children have less skill at pretending than we adults have. They seem to have less and less ability to ignore the plain, straight, ordinary questions of life.
One of the most obvious to them is, "What's it all about anyway? Why are we alive, and what's the purpose of being here?" That's the kind of question that I would ask you to think about during these next days at this time on radio. I'll try to suggest some of the reasons that many of us have seen for being alive. But the most important thing is that you yourself would think about it and you would begin to think, "Why am I here? What's the purpose of this life?
What is the meaning of life? Why am I sitting here in this car? Why am I sitting here in this pub, or why am I sitting here in this living room doing what I'm doing, breathing, sleeping, thinking, talking. What is the point of it? Why am I here? Is there any reason for it at all? Is there any reason beyond the fact that it keeps me from moving?"
This planet is very like that bus in many ways. It is whirling through space at thousands of miles an hour. It's certainly travelling somewhere, and it's certainly going to end up somewhere at sometime. You and I are going to end up somewhere in a matter of years. Why are we alive? What is the meaning of life? Join me tomorrow as we talk about this further.