Measures and Yardsticks and the tale of an Elephant and Blind Men
You and I, taking an afternoon walk in the woods. It is an unusually cool day for the month of June, and it feels wonderful to be out on the trail stealing leisurely moments away from life. Inhale a deep breath and everything around seems to hold promises of wonders that are lurking in the shadows to surprise us.
It is a slow afternoon, and nothing is calling for our attention for the next few hours. A sense of freedom and peace and the moment feels perfect for contemplative bantering. No surprise, we find ourselves engaged in a discussion about how one would measure whether two lives lived differently are equally worthy.
The discussion drifts towards a hypothetical scenario of two individuals. The first one, and we call them X, spends most of their time watching TV or scrolling through various social feeds on the internet.
The curious thing about X is that they are content and at peace with themself. Moreover, when X calls it a day, they look forward to getting up the next morning and watching the next episodes of the Wheel of Fortune followed by an episode of the Mahabharat.
Then there is Y who is inquisitive, a learner, an individual with a growth mindset. Y spends their time dreaming about curvature of space and time and how to reduce it to a simple set of equations.
One morning, Y wakes up shouting ‘Eureka, I now know the equation that can explain the curvature of space and time, and in the bargain, can also explain why the apple falls from the tree.’
Y is also content and is at peace and cannot wait to live another day filled with learning and dabbling in the theory that one day will unify all known forces in nature — love, hate, smile, tears.
The discussion we are engaged in is whether the lives of X and Y are equally worthy?
At a personal level both X and Y are content and feel at peace. In their own ways, both have reasons to look forward to getting out of the bed the next morning. Both have a spring in the step (even though, affectionately, everyone calls X, who does not use their legs often, a couch potato).
And so, I say to you, a tad bit emphatically, that both X and Y have reached the goals they seek. Both have attained what so many frameworks for having a happy and equanimous life are built from — Stoicism, Buddhism, Taoism. Then there are religions that also promise the same.
And therefore, I argue that the lives of both X and Y are equally worthy. Feeling a bit smug, Quod Erat Demonstrandum (QED), I say.
Not so fast, you reply. Mx. Y is going to leave something behind while Mx. X will be forgotten even before the last eulogy is read. The advances in the knowledge Y made will forever be the building blocks of understanding the universe for eons to come. Clearly, from the perspective of human civilization and our quest to understand the workings of things around us, you argue, the life of Y is more worthy than that of X.
As we walk along, occasionally stopping to look around and smell the lightness in the air, we start talking about whose perspective is ‘right’. It feels like we are heading towards yet another stalemate that philosophical discussion often becomes.
But then, we get hit on the head by couple of falling apples and realize that…
…we both are right.
The difference between our positions is the measures and yardsticks each of us is using. As it often happens, within the narrowness of our visions we both are equally right. The answers depend on the perspective from which we view facts.
It is the old story of an elephant and five blind men again.
Measures and Yardsticks. It is easy to forget that answers depend on them. Sometimes, in our lives, we struggle to find measures and yardsticks to even know which direction we are heading. Without a GPS for the soul, we wander around.
One day we wake up and start to wonder what is the meaning and purpose of our life? Somewhere along the passing hours of one night, our perspectives shift, and the morning sky just does not look the same.
We had also forgotten that Y also taught us that all things are relative. The colors we see depend on our frame of reference.
Measures and Yardsticks. One measure of me is height and the yardstick is a meter. Another measure of me is sharpness of vision and the yardstick is 20/20. Based on each, I could reach two different conclusions about myself.
I am measuring X and Y by the sense of equanimity they have. The yardstick is how much they looks forward to getting out the bed in the morning and the spring in one’s step.
You are measuring X and Y by how productive they are. The yardstick is what they are going to leave behind. The yardstick is the legacy.
It is the inner peace vs. productivity and springiness vs. legacy.
We wonder if we can come up with another measure and a yardstick that will say that life of X was more worthy than that of Y. Think of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Think of the Cold Wars and threats for nuclear winters (and roaches ruling the world), and in some weird way, for a fleeting moment, the life of X may feel like the more worthy.
Our walk is coming to an end. The sun is descending towards the horizon, and it is time to get back home and think about dinner. We take one last glance at the green trees around us and look forward to coming back again and continue our musings on life, its wonders, its pains, and of promises it can hold.
Oh, did I forget to tell you that Y was the child of X? How silly of me not to have mentioned that Y would not have existed without our beloved couch potato, the Mx. X. Does that change the answer in any way?