“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” – Theodore Roosevelt.
In the last two posts we looked at some of the personal benefits of pursuit of purpose within cultural reality. Today we consider the other two main categories – benefits for others and benefits which persist as a legacy for the human community and civilization. The value of social purpose regarding others comes down to two items – direct benefits to the community and the value of human association. Let’s take them in reverse order.
For a few people, societal purpose may be a solo activity, but for the majority of us, our role is as part of a group with a common goal. Thus every scientist builds on the work of other scientists and depends directly on some support staff, and every ethical business person achieves results only as a member of a team or organization. Integrated into social function is relationship with coworkers and likeminded individuals striving to see a higher goal accomplished. The value of these associations was addressed in the section on purpose and others, but it is important to remind oneself that many of our acquaintances and even some true friends originated from joint participation in a social purpose. Even if we fail in our purpose we have at a minimum the consolation of the benefits of expanded human relationship unique to mutual purpose.
But of course the very definition of social purpose refers to providing services or goods to others and this benefit is the ultimate justification of one’s efforts. From a purely ethical standpoint this dimension of benefit is foremost and ought to drive one’s decision regardless of the other benefits previously discussed. Therefore the purpose of the Union Army volunteer during the civil war should not have been some future political aspirations, but his sheer commitment to maintaining the nation whole and the elimination of the injustice of chattel slavery.
The final and perhaps most desirable benefit of social purpose is a legacy that lasts beyond retirement, and even death. Such a legacy we discussed as a form of metaphorical life extension or immortality. This enduring benefit to community and humanity is most apparent with artistic, literary, scientific, inventive, and political efforts, but likely applies in all areas. For example the teacher’s effect on a child may lead to the amazing accomplishments of the former student. For myself, in addition to my practice of medicine, I have founded several small businesses, some in which I no longer participate. There is an immense sense of meaning in leaving a purposeful and thriving enterprise for others to maintain and enhance as any retired entrepreneur can confirm.
Next time I will draw together the various elements of social purpose into a final synopsis. Join me then.