For fans of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this would be the end of the blog, enough said.
However, for the rest of us seeking meaning outside the realms of a fictional world (no matter how compelling), I think that we would all have slightly different answers. I suspect that many of the answers would revolve around other people, there may be a few still wanting to collect every Pokemon Go character, and there will, of course, be a high proportion of people who believe in a higher power.
However, as we are surrounded by amazing people every day of our lives, let’s focus on the answers that seek to discover what makes us get on with our fellow man. There will be many worthy contenders. Kindness would be high up the list. Generosity would not be far behind. Respect would be worth a shout in our sadly troubled times. Love would be a more all-encompassing answer, if a little fluffy. Selflessness would certainly be there for the givers amongst us – and I am happy to know many of them.
However, for me, there is one answer that underpins all of these concepts, without which they would be impossible. In every relationship, you have to have a starting point, and unless that starting point is based on a position of understanding, you will be lost. For me, the answer to life, the universe, and everything is:
I would love to do some complex mathematical proof that shows that the word empathy relates to the number 42, but frankly I don’t have time, so I just have to leave you with this thought…. If you don’t understand other people, all of the other pieces which go into building strong relationships (like kindness, generosity, respect, etc.) are that bit less secure. Empathy is the glue that binds every aspect of human (and even many animal) relationships. You can look into someone’s eyes, observe their behaviour, consider your history together and you need only a few words to know how they are feeling, if you even need words at all.
This is easy to say, but far less easy to put into practice. Forgetting about your needs and focussing entirely on the needs of others feels like an alien concept in our pressurised world, and the patience that you require to peel back the layers often means that this focus can be quickly lost. Empathy comes from a place of giving, without any thought about what you are going to get back in return.
Most people respond incredibly well to attempts to understand them, and even if the conclusions aren’t perfect, the effort will be recognised. The more questions you ask, the happier they will be to open up that little bit. If you can’t be bothered to ask the questions, you will never get any sort of decent answer.
Empathy is the key to unlocking the wonder of human relationships. If there is any better answer to life, the universe, and everything, I’d like to hear your suggestions.
Written by Alex Turner, Edited by Paul Drury