I have long said that the “meaning of life,” to the extent that there might be a meaning, is that life is hard, and we’re here to help each other. That’s it: We’re here to help each other. Which, it turns out, fits nicely with Buddhism in general, and Zen in particular, which might even be why I was drawn to Zen in the first place. It’s not that Zen somehow makes sense to me, but that it fits the way I live anyway.
Now it turns out that my philosophy was described in 432 pages by someone named T.M. Scanlon around 20 years ago in a tome entitled “What We Owe To Each Other.” Which found a life-changing place in the finale of season 2 to The Good Place. As summarized in a nice little review in GQ,
We shouldn’t be good for the sake of a hypothetical cosmic reward [“moral dessert”]. We should be good because it’s good for other people. It’s difficult to be alive, and one of the only ways we can actually help other people is by doing what we can to improve and enrich their lives. . . [Quoting Chidi] “We choose to be good because of our bonds with other people, and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone.”
There it is. We are not in this alone; we are here to help each other. And I didn’t need to read Scanlon to learn that.