“You can make life better within yourself only by destroying the barriers that divide your life from that of other beings, and by regarding others as yourself and loving them.” – Leo Tolstoy.


We saw in the last section that, for the most part, purpose is internally defined or subjective, but externally directed. External direction includes four realms or levels of reality – proximate, cultural, cosmic, and ultimate. I define proximate reality as that portion outside the self and within the range of immediate contact or sensory experience; but in practice it refers to other people with whom we have direct interactions. Purpose at the level of proximate relationships then is the subject of this section.

It is worth pausing to collate internal purpose with proximate purpose. The four components of purpose at the level of the self in fact overflow into our immediate relationships. For example making a good life for oneself is balanced with the complementary purpose to add to the good life of others around us or at a minimum not to diminish the quality of their lives. Our individual efforts at self-perfection include of course self-improvements that benefit others, but also the ancillary purpose of modeling perfectibility for them. The purposes of internal happiness and meaning are mirrored in the external purposes to contribute to the happiness and meaning of others, including accepting their need for solitude.

We will analyze these dimensions for each of the five types of relationship that comprise our purpose at the level of proximate reality. These include:

1.   Romantic love

2.   Family 

3.   Friends 

4.   Acquaintances 

5.   Strangers

In other words, proximate purpose revolves around one’s place in the quality of life, improvement, happiness, and meaning of the person we love intimately, our family, our friends, less familiar acquaintances (such as teachers, most co-workers, regular service providers, etc.), and incidental contacts. There is a large body of philosophical, religious, and psychological literature that addresses human purpose for several of these forms of relationship. Join me next time as we take up romantic love and the purpose of life.

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