Don't be a jerk; play nice!

** Inspired by the recent Boko Haram killings in Nigeria **

As I look out into the world, one thing becomes more and more evident to me and it is this: The world, our world, is broken. Very broken. Day after day, I read or hear about how people, or groups of people around the world are actively working to bring pain and suffering to those around them. I’m talking about everything from ISIS terror around the world, to Boko Haram activity in Nigeria, to Al Shabaab killings in Kenya, to Xenophobia in South Africa, to police brutality across America, the list goes on. Besides leading to the loss of precious lives, these senseless acts are depriving numerous people of basic amenities like food, water, shelter, and electricity.

Being a problem solver, I often find myself wondering what I can do to help fix this broken world of ours. I am yet to come up with a revolutionary solution but I think the philosopher Schopenhauer’s answer to the question of how we should live our lives, is a good place to start. In his essay on the Basis of Morals, Schopenhauer writes a simple but powerful prescription: “Harm no one; rather, help everyone as much as you can,” which I think is just an eloquent way of saying, “don’t be a jerk; play nice.”

I believe it is very important for each of us to critically evaluate our individual life plans and determine whether they serve to make the world a better place. I am a firm believer that no matter what career path you choose, you can find a way to use it towards the advancement of humanity. I therefore encourage you to decide how you will use your current future plans to make this world a better place.

Use Schopenhauer’s prescription – harm no one; rather help everyone as much as you can – as a framework within which you determine what it would mean for you to be great, successful, and significant by the end of your life. I think the way to achieve any or all of these three things, is to first define what they mean to you, and then use the skills and resources at your disposal to live out whatever definitions you coin.

Three years ago, a tragic event motivated me to define success for myself. After printing my lecture slides for class one morning, I realized I had a few minutes to spare before the class started. Being the efficient and productive person that I am, I decided to spend those few minutes on Facebook. I logged in and found that my news feed was populated with messages like “No, I refuse to believe this!” “Please tell me it’s not true.” “Mark, where are you?” About 30 seconds after I logged in, I came across one status that crushed my heart. It read: “Rest in peace, Mark.” Mark was a close friend of mine in boarding school. We were in the same classes and played basketball together. He was the definition of an ambitious, kind gentleman and I knew he was going to do some really incredible things in life. His death brought me an immense amount of sadness but more importantly, it made me ask myself some important questions. I wondered if dying so young meant that Mark did not have a chance to be successful, great, or significant. I wondered if 22 years of life was enough to leave a legacy here on earth. I wondered how I would feel about the way I lived my life if I were to die at a young age.

These questions threw me into an extended period of reflection during which I decided to find ways to be successful everyday. I decided that no matter how long or short my life ends up being, I want to be remembered as one who positively impacted others in life-changing ways. That was my definition of success. Fast forward to three years later, that simple definition has led me to accomplish some amazing things. It has also made me a much happier person.

I am confident that each one of us is capable of coming up with a definition of success that will guide us to contribute something meaningful towards fixing our broken world. My message to you is simple: embrace that definition and live it out.

And while you’re at it, please remember: don’t be a jerk, play nice.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!