|One technique: Take each word of a question and ask its meaning, its associations, and other possible words that might go in that spot.|
It denotes an action, for one thing, but not any kind of action. We talk about people who are "doing nothing" with their lives – does that mean they are in a state of suspended animation? No, it usually means that they are not doing anything productive. They are acting, but not acting "properly".
But by whose definition? Who's to decide what is proper? There's the first tension – someone's actions might be deemed as "doing nothing" from the point of view of society, but from their own point of view, they are doing something worth doing.
On the other hand, they might be doing something worth doing from society's point of view, but not from their own. We'd like to think that we are just here to make ourselves happy, but of course we live in a society, and it's a bit over-easy to say that we always go with what makes us happy.
This is a word that points to the future. You don't say "should" about the past, except when we say "you should not have done that". It still has a future aspect to it, though – you should have thought ahead, you should have known better.
Should also has the sense of judgment, making decisions, maybe moral ones, maybe prudential ones, maybe existential ones.
What kind of "should" is this?
- Is the "should" a matter of morality, like when we say "you shouldn't murder people"?
- Is it a matter of prudence or means-ends rationality, like when we say "you should use the proper tool for the job"?
- Is it an existential issue, like when we say "you should be true to yourself"?
Here's a tough one. Putting aside the questions we are going to take up for the next few weeks on who we are, there's a more basic problem – is it the I of right now, or the I of some time in the future, that I am concerned about? Clearly there's some sense of orientation to the future for everyone here – people almost always have to take some courses that they don't want, but will help them to do what they do want.
Another problem – how do you know what you want? We usually think that you know yourself first and best, but what if that's not true? In fact, it gets tougher. For many people, they actually want to change the "I" that they are. You are not the same person you were 10 years ago, although in some significant respects you are. You still have the same name, and perhaps some of the same characteristics. On the other hand, you act and react differently in many ways, you may have different likes and dislikes, you have a substantially different outlook on the world and what's important.
Another action word. What do we mean, usually, by "doing"? Usually, we mean "what job do we want?" Vocation seems to be key to who we are. That's not always the case, unless we broaden the notion of vocation more. Some people want to stay at home and raise kids. That's not a job, although it may be a vocation.
Most of us are interested in more than just a job. We want to know what our calling is, what we are "meant to do", what will make us fulfilled.
Another seemingly harmless word. Let's try substituting other words, and see how the meaning changes. "What should I do to my life?" "What should I do through my life?" "What should I do during my life?"
"With" seems to have a kind of tool-like nature to it. We use something for some purpose. We hammer a nail with a hammer. It is a tool, or perhaps a vehicle. We speak with language. So, what sense does it make to say that your life is a tool, or a vehicle?
It seems like this has been covered, perhaps, under the "I", but there is something else here. "My" connotes ownership (my car, my stereo), or relationship (my friend). Do we have a life, do we own it? Are we related to it? It seems more likely that we are it, that I and my life are identical things. Is there a distinction?
Well, we've already anticipated the questions around this word, as we talked about "my". But not all of them. What, after all, is a life? Not just biological, although it is that. What is it? Fill in the blank: "Life is _____" What kind of response would make sense out of the earlier question, "What should I do with my life?"