The Competing Ends of Man

The Competing Ends of Man January 3, 2020

At least once a week, I wake up and don’t want to go to whatever it is I have to do that day. When I was younger, it made a lot of sense – the thing I had to go to was class or a job I hated. But now that I am doing something I love, the feeling is still there.

What is happening is a dichotomy of purpose. On the one hand, I want life to be easy, simple, comfortable. I want to be safe and secure. I don’t want to struggle, to feel any sort of pain. I don’t want to expend effort. I just want to watch sports in my underwear. On the other hand, I want to fully participate in life. I know purpose is not just about survival. I want to do things that matter, hard things. Things that cost me something, that are worth the time and the effort and the struggle.


The Ends

From the time we are very little, we sense that life is about survival. As toddlers, our parents are telling us how to cross streets and holding us up in the swimming pool. The message is clear – protect yourself. Survive.

And as we grow, we start to take ownership of our survival. But we have been taught to always be on guard. And if we are not careful, our need for survival becomes a grip so tight it chokes us. Rather than physical death being the threat, we start to think that any pain, any rejection, any discomfort is a hint toward our demise. It is a slippery slope, we start to believe, and we are increasingly sure if we don’t protect ourselves to an absurd degree, we won’t survive.

On the other hand, we sense life is about “something more” than just self-preservation. We are chasing an end that matters – meaning. The famous line in Braveheart is “every man dies, but not every man really lives”. And we feel this need to truly live. To thrive, not just survive.



Whether we admit it or not, a lot of the time we think these two ends are mutually inclusive. That survival and purpose are one and the same. We are asleep to the reality of apathy. And we lose our sense of deep purpose for the superficial and base-level manifestation of survival.

Sometimes, like in Braveheart, these two ends are competing with one another. They are not always mutually exclusive, but they can be. Sometimes we have to risk our very lives to discover the true end of purpose we long for.

You may not be asked to die for the thing that brings purpose into your life. At least not in the ultimate, physical sense. But, in another sense, you definitely will be asked to “die”. In some way, you will be asked to lay down your entitlement, your grudges, or your prosperity for the sake of the true end you seek.

These competing ends swirl in us, each vying for affection, for attention. Survival and Meaning are not binary choices. They have a complicated relationship. But we do have to choose which gets the primary position. Which is our default setting. Which matters to us most.

We live fractured lives because we are serving two masters within ourselves. We are seeking two ends and they do not always agree on the course of the day. Whom will you serve? To what end will you live (and die)?

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