Daily Tao / 254 – Conundrum


Which came first,
Experience or meaning?

When we were children, a favorite riddle used to be, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” This conundrum was so sticky that it stayed with us even into adulthood and became a cliché indicating any difficult situation of logic.

Maybe meaning in life is somewhat arbitrary. People go to work, and their work becomes part of the meaning to their lives. People marry and have a family and declare that these are the most important things to them. If they had taken different jobs, or if they had married a different person, or if they had renounced the world and had become nuns and monks, wouldn’t their lives have had different meanings?

And then we have the people for whom life dictated so many of their meanings : A person with physical deformities will have a much different life than one born healthy. Someone born into a wealthy, aristocratic family will obviously have a much different outlook than a beggar’s child. Someone born in Asia will look at life differently that someone born in Europe.

So which comes first, those who say that meaning comes from our definitions, or those who declare that our circumstances determine our meaning?