Note: The ideas presented in this post are far from fully worked out. Comments are particularly encouraged.
"Live in such a way that will make the world a better place. Do good to others."
"Live an authentic life by following your heart's desire. Don't give up on your dreams."
The above is my rather crude attempt to summarize two very different approaches to the question of how best to live one's life. I think they are the two dominant approaches in our culture, and possibly other cultures as well, past and present. Certainly I can feel the presence of both within my own psyche. What's more, I believe in the Truth of both.
What follows is an attempt to reconcile them.
I said that these are two very different approaches, and they are, but they are not necessarily contradictory. I think they may illustrate two paths to the same destination: living a healthy, productive, and joy-filled life. Those who have arrived at that destination are both living out their heart's desire and doing good to others. Indeed, in a fully enlightened state, the two may be the same.
The hard part, of course, is getting there. If I live solely according to our first philosophy, I may easily neglect myself, or fail to discover and make best use of my unique gifts, so that I fail to do much good in the long run. If I live solely according to our second philosophy I may neglect those around me, fail to take responsibility for my actions, and as a result never find the bliss I was searching for.
Now, one following the first path might eventually realize that in order to really do good, he/she must also pay attention to him/herself. The converse holds for someone on the second path. In either case, it is at this moment of realization that spiritual growth occurs.
So I think that each path can work. Joseph Campbell spoke of a "right-hand path" and a "left-hand path," and I think he had a similar dichotomy in mind.
What I'm trying to figure out is whether it's possible to pursue both paths simultaneously.
And with that goal in mind, here’s my first attempt at a meta-philosophy:
Strive to place yourself in situations where you will want to do good.