‘Getting a life’ means defining your ownPublished 4:36am Monday, July 23, 2012
When a person dismisses another with that facile expression “get a life,” he supposes he knows the meaning of life and what life really is, but that the other does not. Such arrogance impresses me as the consequence of never having thought about what is an authentic and genuine life.
I find recognizing the distinction between these terms helpful, because a life must be both authentic and genuine to be distinctly human life rather than mere physical and social existence. Their senses are close, because they form two sides of a reality.
The terms share the sense of “being exactly what a thing is said to be.” This is real life; this really is life. However, each has a prevailing sense distinct to itself. This is to say, careful users of English tend to distinguish them by a sense distinctive to each. Using careful language, we are thus enabled to think carefully and constructively about life.
The prevailing sense of authentic is “authoritative or trustworthy.” (We can hear the cognate noun authority in it.) When a police officer tells me I have violated a traffic law, his judgment is authentic because he quotes a law enacted by the state legislature.
The prevailing sense of genuine is “real or true, often with the implication of descent without admixture from an original … without adulteration …” The officer gives the law to me as it was written and without being confused with his personal opinion.
The famous painting of General George Washington crossing the Delaware River, for instance, could be said to be authentic if Gilbert Stuart had stood on the river bank and painted the scene as the crossing was in progress. It can be said to be genuine in that it can be proved to have been painted by Gilbert Stuart, to whom it is ascribed.
Shakespeare put it: “And this above all: to thine own self be true.” But one must know himself in order to be true to himself. So, centuries earlier the ancient Greeks laid it down, “Know thyself.” This latter is attributed to any number of philosophers whose wisdom was recognized, because it is self-evidently wise. One of them, Socrates, asserted, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The psalmist prayed to God, “What is man that you mindful of him?”
So, let’s do this. But where do we start? Not with the self, surely. When you find a strange object and wonder about it, the question is not so much, “What is this?”, but, “What is this supposed to be?” Its intended purpose determines what it is. In asking ourselves if we have real lives, we cannot successfully start with ourselves. Colloquially, this is called “belly-button gazing.” The philosophic term is “solipsism” (knowing the self by the self and, so, only the self, which is in the end knowing nothing at all).
Unless you actually believe you are whatever it is you happen to be with no particular purpose or worth in yourself or value to anyone else, something objective to yourself must have stipulated what you should be and what is your purpose in life and in living. I am satisfied I have this conceptual understanding for me, and I am eager you find it for you and take ownership of it. This is not to suggest what you decide, even for you, does not make any difference or that you have a choice. It is to encourage you to make this recognition so you can own it as yours.
The bird that thinks it is a fish or the fish that thinks it is a cow loses not only identity and integrity but authentic, genuine life. So do you if you think wrongly. You must find an authoritative and reliable source or force objective to you and learn the meaning and purpose of your life as an individual. The particular is learned from the universal.
Without joining the sarcastic, I do encourage you to get a life —your life and then live this life.