On Purpose

Words to live by
Understanding Goals In Life


By Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD

I do not like fish tanks. I see the fish swimming to and fro, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, accomplishing nothing. This makes me think, “Am I really any different? Is it possible that I, too, like the fish, am merely moving about but not really doing anything of true substance? Could an outsider be looking at me and thinking of me what I think of the fish?” Then I wonder: “If these fish can think, is it possible that when they swim to and fro in the tank, they think they are accomplishing something?” This is a very uncomfortable thought.

We cannot possibly be happy if we think our existence has no meaning, if we have no goals or aspirations. We each need to find some purpose for our existence.

One of the most unique features of human beings is our ability to contemplate a goal and have a purpose in life. We all need and want to feel valued. But how do we determine value? If we look about us, we see that something has value primarily for one of two reasons: either because it performs a function that we need or, if it is not functional, because it has aesthetic value. We might own a beautiful grandfather clock that, even though the mechanism is broken beyond repair and has no use as a timepiece, we value because it is a handsome piece of furniture. On the other hand, if a can opener becomes dull and cannot open cans, we discard it. Because it has no aesthetic value, it is worthless when it is not functional.

There are some people who are so handsome that they may have an aesthetic value, but they are in the minority. And even these people may eventually lose their aesthetic value in advanced age. Rather, our value as human beings is in our function. But just what is our function? Some put in a full day’s work, come home, kick off their shoes, and watch television. Others might spend a few hours at the fitness center working out, or they might meet up with some friends and go out for a delightful dinner. But the truth is, if our lives do not go beyond self-gratification, whatever form that may take, we will continually suffer from signs of Spiritual Deficiency Syndrome. True, a person who enjoys sports or television is more sophisticated than an animal, but even sophisticated self-gratification falls short of the function that can give us a sense of worthiness and self-fulfillment.

Self-fulfillment requires working toward a goal that is more than self-gratification. The human mind, with its stunning capacity, is far too great to settle for only self-gratification. If you saw a boy wearing a jacket whose sleeves extended far beyond his hands, pants that dragged behind him, and a hat that came down over his nose, you would probably conclude that he had put on his father’s clothes. Those clothes are far too large for him. Similarly, the abilities that comprise the human spirit are far too great for us to settle for less than the best we can be.