A Life Well Lived

“The deepest insight I received into what makes a life worth living was not at university but when I began my career as a Rabbi and had, for the first time, to officiate at funerals. They were distressing moments, trying to comfort a family in the midst of grief, and I never found them easy, but they were extraordinarily instructive. In my address I had to paint a portrait of the deceased, whom I might not have known personally, so I would talk first to the family and friends to try and understand what he or she meant to them. Almost always they spoke of similar things. The person who had died had been a supportive marriage partner, a caring parent. They had been a loyal friend, ready to help when help was needed. No one ever mentioned what they earned or bought, what car they drove, where they spent their holidays. The people most mourned were not the most rich or successful. They were people who enhanced the lives of others. They were kind. You could rely on them. They had a sense of responsibility. They gave time as well as money to voluntary causes. They were part of a community, living its values, sharing its griefs and celebrations. As this pattern repeated itself time and again, I realised that I was learning about more than the deceased. I was being educated into what makes a life well lived.”

“It had little if anything to do with the values of a market society and everything to do with moral principle – good deeds, caring relationships, a willingness to make sacrifices for values one did not construct oneself, belonging to a community dedicated to the pursuit of ideals. These are the values that give continuity and dignity to a life. They are a large part of what most of us understand by happiness. They are curiously egalitarian. They are about what we do and are, not about power or wealth, success or prestige.”

The Dignity of Difference, p. 69