We all want to be significant. We value our lives, and if our lives have value then the things that happen to us must also have value. But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes a bad lunch is just a poor choice of fast food restaurants. Sometimes a monumental discussion of the nature of man is just a dumb blog no one will read. Significance is the signal to the world that what happens to you matters.
Winston Churchill lamented his later years and pined for the years of World War Two. Not that he regretted peace, but because during World War Two everything he did was of historical significance. He was aware of the eyes of historians watching his every move, and that attention gave significance to everything he did. Retreat from Dunkirk: movies and books. Take a shower: speculation on his private bathing habits influencing soldier cleaning regimens. Have lunch: some Millennial decades later writes an ill-thought-out joke about how this has no connection to his starving millions in India but is good enough of an excuse to bring up the fact that Churchill was a murderous imperialist jerk who is only well thought of because he helped kill a more murderous jerk. You know. Significant.
When even world leaders get depressed at the thought of making decisions during less-than-historical times, it makes sense that we get down about our insignificant lives. The search for significance drives our ambitions, and leads to many positive improvements. So it’s hard to label it a bad thing. But how to reconcile the dilemma between this driving motivation and its ability to make us sad that we only watched Netflix all day and didn’t save the world from an alien invasion, like all those cool people on Netflix did? Perspective.
On a long enough timeline, everyone dies. On a long enough timeline, every nation dies. On a long enough timeline, our sun will explode and destroy our planet. On a long enough timeline, the Milky Way Galaxy will collide with another galaxy and annihilate any habitable world. On a long enough timeline, the heat death of the universe will signal the end of everything. So who cares about Winston Churchill? It’s humorously audacious of us to give significance to mundane things, when we become aware of how insignificant our place is in the universe. But isn’t that great? It’s equally hubristic to proclaim that the events of World War Two matter to the trillions of stars in the sky as it is to say that the neighborhood chili cook-off trophy is a prize worth pursuing. Yes, it’s a dinky little trophy someone paid eight dollars for. But that’s about as valuable to the universe as a statue in front of Parliament.
Everything we do is insignificant. The only thing that makes it matter is that it matters to us. And this is entirely subjective. There is no objective measure for value to human events. If there was, I’m sure a star or two would go supernova to show their approval, which almost never happens. So because nothing matters, we can make anything matter. Work your tail off for that dinky trophy. Why? Because it matters to you. Write that blog no one will read. Why? Because it matters to you! And if you’ve read this far, I hope you know that you matter, because you matter to me.