This is a version of How We Will Be Measured, abridged for speech and delivered at the Bay Area 2019 winter solstice by request of the event organizers. Happy solstice!
When all is said and done, and Nature passes her final judgement, you will not be measured by the number of moments in which you worked as hard as you could. You will not be judged by someone rooting around in your mind to see whether or not you were good. You will not be awarded extra points for the persuasiveness of the reasons that there was nothing more you could have done.
You will be measured only by what actually happens, as will we all.
That is not to say that we’re all aiming for the same outcomes. But whatever we’re shooting for — personal happiness, a thriving family, a flourishing future — the type of thing we’re doing is striving to make the completed history of our universe, from start to finish, good.
Is there a way you want the story of our universe to go? Are some completed histories better than others? If so, then your task is simple: act to make our story as good as you can.
While this observation carries little content, I, for one, find it freeing: Perhaps the path forward is long and difficult. Or perhaps I can only improve our history in small and personal ways that put barely a dent in the underlying problems. And no matter what I do, people will suffer and die tomorrow, and that hurts. But I don’t need to feel guilty about it. I don’t need to regret my past missteps. I don’t need to begrudge my personal failings. Because those aren’t useful moves in the game we’re playing. The game we’re playing is simple: make our story bright. And all I have to do is take my next step in whatever direction seems to make our story brightest.
It’s easy to forget this, and focus completely on building relationships, acquiring skills, or addressing personal shortcomings. These activities are all well and good, but it’s important to remember that they are only a means to an end. The real game is not to tick all the boxes we’ve drawn for ourselves, the real game is to make the future bright.
This game is horribly imbalanced. People start with wildly different resources and skills. Chance plays far too large a role. The game is occasionally heartwarming, but regularly cruel. It tries to convince us that it’s a player versus player game, and the moment it does, it pits strangers against strangers, neighbors against neighbors, and friends against friends. But it’s not a player-vs-player game. This game is everyone versus the environment, and the stakes are cosmic.
So find allies, find friends, find everything you need to improve your ability to make our universe-history tell a story you like. And then fill our future with light.