Posted by: slartibartifast | October 9, 2011

Bertrand Russell- What I have lived for

At the age of 84, Bertrand Russell added a five-paragraph prologue to a new publication of his autobiography, giving a summary of the work and his life, titled WHAT I HAVE LIVED FOR.
Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
    I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy—ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness—that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found.
 With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
    Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.
    This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

Without knowing about these intelligent and compassionate words by Bertrand Russell until I was 55 years old I had unknowingly been patterning my life after his words for nearly all of my adult life.
With so many ignorant, selfish, and greedy sociopaths in our society I have often felt like I was alone for much of my life in my beliefs. It’s a comfort to know that somebody as thoughtful and brilliant as Russell had nearly the same beliefs. It makes the whole struggle of life seem more worthwhile.

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Responses

  1. Beautiful words. Wise man. Does it make it all worthwhile?


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