Why Are We Here?
Best of the Best of the Best
The movie Men In Black is one of my all time favorite movies. Not only is it funny, but I find that it contains some amazing insight related to how mankind deals with the question, Why am I here?
We learn at the beginning of the movie that there is a group of individuals - who we later learn are known simply as the Men In Black or MIB - who monitor and police alien activity on earth. While the vast majority of us consider illegal aliens, such as those who attempt to sneak into the US from Mexico, as a problem or even a danger. This group of individuals know that the real danger comes from aliens from other planets who walk among us without our knowing. In an opening scene we find that one of the MIB agents is getting too old to keep pace with his job. Faced with the loss of his partner, known simply as K and played by Tommy Lee Jones, must begin the search for a replacement.
We are then introduced to James Edwards, a young determined New York City policeman, played by Will Smith. Through a series of events K determines that Edwards would be an acceptable replacement for his partner. The next step in the recruiting process is to have Edwards go through a series of tests at the MIB headquarters. Thanks to a little device known as a neuralyzer K erases Edwards memory of the events of that day, so that Edwards has no memory of the various aliens he has seen, but manages to get Edwards to show up at MIB headquarters the next morning.
The video below begins as Edwards is arriving at the MIB headquarters. Although he is interested in following up with K, he has no memory of the previous day and is not sure why he has been asked to come to the MIB headquarters.
Best of the Best of the Best, Sir!
No clue why we are here.
The humor, and the irony, in this scene is that out of all of these obviously smart and successful young men only Edwards seems interested to know why they are there. We have to assume that the other men have been brought to the meeting without knowing any more information than Edwards. Yet it becomes clear by the response from Second Lieutenant Jake Jensen that these young men are satisfied to know that they are there because Z (pronounced Zed, since the movie was made in Canada) has made it clear that his organization is looking for the best of the best.
What we can assume is that these young men have been trained, molded and maybe a little brainwashed so that they don't need to know why they are doing something, they simply need to know that there is a contest or test and that they need to put forth their best effort so that they might finish on top. One of the reasons they can do this is because they also have been taught that there exists others more senior than themselves, who have been through this all before, and who have learned over the years that the process they are going through is the best process for success.
They may even believe that someone else has previously asked Why. They may feel that someday they will gain a better understanding themselves of Why, but for the time being they believe that all they need to know is that they are in a contest to discover who is the best.
Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing. Or is it?
I love this scene from the movie because it reminds me a great deal of life. Although I should say it reminds me of life in America, since I have no way of knowing what life in other countries is like. I think it is fair to say that America is all about winning. There was a time when people might have said, "Winning isn't everything". However, somewhere around the 1950's or 1960's a new saying became more popular, "Winning isn't everything, it is the only thing". In other words America is about looking for the best of the best of the best.
Let me state before I get a number of irate comments about picking on America, I am happy to be an American. Given that nothing is perfect in this world, I still believe America has a lot going for it. But again, the issue isn't who is the best, America, Canada, the UK? The question has nothing to do with the best. It has to do with Why.
The other reason I love this scene from the movie, is because I actually relate to Edwards. After years of simply accepting each challenge and attempting to be the best, I began to notice in some cases that being the best didn't result in being successful. I also began to notice that older adults and my superiors at work, who I had assumed understood why we were here, didn't seem to know any more about why than I did. In fact I noticed that a number of those who I had assumed had most of the answers, seemed to be more lost and confused about life than I was.
What I came to realize is that no one is really looking out for me besides me. Those who are guiding me along a given path are simply doing so because they were told it was the right path, and because in some cases they get a paycheck to tell me it is the right path. However if I were to ask them Why we are here, and what does this particular path in life have to do with Why we are here, I have discovered that no one knows.
The most difficult question.
I understand that Why is a very difficult question. It is certainly a lot harder than Who, What, Where, When or How. But when I really think about it, it seems to me it is the most important and the most fundamental of all the questions. Even if we don't know the exact answer to Why we are here, it just seems we should at least have a general idea.
I think one of the best reasons I have found for asking Why, is because we can. I know that scientist argue over the things that separate us from all other creatures in the animal kingdom. Some have said our use of tools, while others claim art. For me it seems enough to know that we appear to be the only creature on this planet that has the ability to ask Why. We are also the only animal that has the ability to assess the possible outcome, and consequences, of actions before we actually do them. In other words we have the ability to look before we leap. It would just seem logical to me that given these very unique abilities, it might make sense to use them.
I mean if we were on a journey, would it be enough to simply know that we were making good time, and covering a lot of miles each day, and that because of those things our journey was at least pleasant. Wouldn't it be more important to know Why we were on a journey, which would also tell us which way we should be going. Even if we weren't able to get a complete answer to Why, we might at least discovered that we needed to be moving north. That information alone would make a significant difference. It would certainly help us stay true to our goal even when the journey became rough or even dangerous.
I do want to be up front about the fact that I don't know Why we are here. But because I decided to pursue the question, I do feel that I have at least gained some valuable insight into possible answers. I also believe that in my quest I have gained some insight into a number of misconceptions that have caused us to simply pursue the best of the best, only to find out that we are on a path that leads no where.
My goal in writing this article is not to so much to give answers, since as I just said, I don't have the answers. But rather my goal is to first bring attention to the fact that "because you are looking for the best of the best of the best" is not a satisfactory answer to the question Why are we here, and second to simply share what I have discovered so far in my quest to find out Why. It is my hope that I will discover others who are also in search of Why, and that even if we don't have the answer we can at least share what we have discovered along the way.
Since we have to pick a category.
I am posting this piece under the religious category, since I feel that this question falls more into a religious category than science or anything else. I will admit that I consider myself a religious (or maybe I should say Spiritual) person. However I have also come to realize that no one religion or denomination has all of the answers. Unfortunately one of the problems with religious groups is that they become very fixed, and extremely guarded about their beliefs, which means they are typically not willing to openly discuss them. It isn't the goal of this article to criticize religious organizations - although I do believe changes need to be made - however I also believe they have provided a necessary service over the years by helping to establish moral guidelines and standards that have allowed us to live and work together with some success.
I appreciate comments, especially if they add to the conversation.