My last post on Purpose and Intentionality yielded some interesting reactions and comments from friends and readers. One friend, roughly my age, became very animated at the topic and said, “That’s really what it’s all about—it’s why we’re here in the first place, to find our purpose!” Another cited his recent reading of Viktor Frankl, Austrian-born neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, indicating that it was Dr. Frankl’s purpose each day to maintain his goal of surviving the horrors of the concentration camp. A third responder interpreted the issue of purpose into a service-to-others action plan, stating that he had all he needed and believed his best offering would be in giving to and doing for others. Some felt that living with a purpose was akin to a calling, as in a mission, while others described it as similar to a positive character trait, utilized whenever the opportunity presented itself.
These reactions are interesting and likely quite typical of what many of us would say. However, are they representative of what others would say? What would a Yazidi mother say her purpose in life is after a week in the Sinjar Mountains in 120 degree temperature? What about a veteran with a TBI, a pending divorce and no prospects of a job? Extreme but nonetheless real situations. So it makes me wonder if what we comfortably discuss about purpose over a Starbucks coffee has other variables that must be factored in. My friend who is grateful that he is now in a position in life to be able to dedicate time, treasure and talent to others, is certainly operating from a different purposeometer than Dr. Frankl.
Could it be that what each of us identifies as opportunities for intentional purposefulness is largely defined by factors related to our station in life? Said another way, is our purpose determined not only by the assets we have to give but by what we need as well? When we dip the bucket into our well of resources, what do we pull out? Is the bucket overflowing with cool, fresh water or is it half-full of a warm, fetid liquid? Worse yet, does it come up empty with only dusty residue? Our purpose, depending on our situation, may be to serve others through a service club, volunteer at church or the hospital or read to children after school. Or our purpose may be to secure safe drinking water, find shelter and protection or try and find a second part-time job. I think Maslow may agree that our needs impact our purpose.However, the irony in this may be what these quests have in common; to fill some basic condition that exists within ourselves. The major difference may be where one finds oneself on the hierarchy of need. The need for basic security is on a different level as the need for self-actualization but both remain needs seeking fulfillment, nevertheless. Therefore, when we awaken each morning and renew our pledge to live today with a purpose, it is related to what our needs are and our quest to satisfy them. There is nothing perverse in quenching a personal need and committing to a purpose that may make a difference in someone else’s life at the same time, in fact, the two may be inseparably and intimately connected. That’s why we believe it’s better to give than receive!