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Why do we exist?

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

Perhaps it was an accident. Evolution simply did not know when to stop. The planet appears to have been fine without us. There were plenty of other animals to keep the vital exchanges of carbon and oxygen in balance. Did Earth really need us?

It could be, of course, that the gods were lonely. When you think about it, the gods (especially monotheistic gods), seem to be overly concerned about human behavior. What would the gods do if they could not fret over our fate?

I don’t know, but I don’t think we exist be to god’s playmates.

Maybe we exist to be each other’s playmates. We certainly need each other to play, to protect, to provide and to love. We exist for each other. That’s a no-brainer. But that doesn’t answer the original question, why do humans exist? Is there a place for us in the larger scheme of things?

When one looks at our situation, maybe we exist today to clean up the mess we have made. Our children must worry about what is in store for them. Who else can decrease carbon emissions, restore grasslands, revive endangered species, care for the houseless, stop the wars, protect the children, catch the criminals (Putin)? There’s lots to do.

Perhaps we created such a sorry state for our children because we either didn’t know or were mistaken about why we exist.

For some time now, the idea has been that we exist to build, to innovate, to “go to the moon” so to speak. Now we know that this was a narcissistic illusion. Our “pioneer spirit” is pushing us over a cliff (I wish President Biden knew this).

There’s another idea. We exist to weed the flowers. OK, hogs can do that too.

There’s another idea, inspired from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass. She writes that we have a special gift.

Other beings are known to be specially gifted, with attributes that humans lack. Other beings can fly, see at night, rip open trees with their claws, make maple syrup. What can humans do?

We may not have wings or leaves, but we humans do have words. Language is our gift and our responsibility. I've come to think of writing as an act of reciprocity with the living land. Words to remember old stories, words to tell news ones, stories that bring science and spirit back together to nurture our becoming people made of corn (347).

People of the corn. As Kimmerer points out, corn is a cultivated crop. It doesn’t grow by itself. It grows in a reciprocal relationship with humans. Corn needs us as we need corn. Why do we exist? To cultivate the Earth.

Cultivating the Earth may seem foreign to some city folks. Perhaps we could practice by cultivating a taste for a special food. Then we might turn to cultivating a relationship with another person. Maybe we could even cultivate a climate of justice, and in such a climate, imagine all of us belonging to the Earth. Then, If we were to sit together for a meal, we might share stories of the destruction of our shared habitat and efforts to preserve it.

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1 Comment

Sharon G. Thornton
Sharon G. Thornton
Mar 27, 2023

I'm finally reading Braiding Sweetgrass. Love it.

As I read your reflection I thought of something I ran across the other day. Hope you like it:

"Nature runs on sunlight, uses only the energy it needs, fits form to function, recycles everything, rewards cooperation, banks on diversity, demands local expertise, curbs excesses from within, and taps the power of limits."

-From “On Being”

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