TED Conversations

Arkady Grudzinsky


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If this were the last day of your life, how would you spend it?

It just occurred to me today that finishing my most urgent project at work wouldn't be on my to do list. I would love to read some thoughts or stories.

...After reading some responses, it seems that most people would do what they always wanted to do and take care of things that they value most. But why wouldn't we do these things in the first place, regardless of how long we have left? I don't mean it as a rhetorical question - it would be interesting to read some thoughts.

Topics: Values

Closing Statement from Arkady Grudzinsky

I'd like to thank everyone who participated in this conversation. Lots of interesting thoughts and perspectives.

Perhaps, most notable conclusions:

1. At the end, we focus on what matters most for us, and for most people it's people we love - most people would spend time with family, friends, write letters, etc.

2. It should not matter whether we live the last day of our life or not. Perhaps, we should just do what we do any other day, like having a cup of nice tea, and enjoy the moment.

It's hard to summarize everything that was said here - worth reading.

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    Jan 22 2013: I think this question is profoundly interesting because these ARE the last days of your life, you just do not, or cannot determine the exact amount of time you have left.

    I have a friend who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He is not a young man, in fact it could be said, he has lived most of his natural life anyway. Yet, just the mere fact that he has been given a loose parameter of time wherein his death might fall, has changed the quality of life he lives each day. He may in fact have had the same amount of time without the prostrate tumour, he was morbidly overweight and high blood pressure.

    Yet the fact that he has been given a final date, itself has changed something in him. He now lives each moment to its fullest in complete joy. He does things everyday he may have been too lazy or disinterested to try before the diagnosis. In fact he lives now as we all should live, as if each breath we take is an eternal gift. The irony is, we often need an outside influence to put us into this perspective of happiness, and are often not able to find it ourselves. Why is that?
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      Jan 22 2013: Good point Joanne,
      We may never really know for sure how much time we have left here in the earth school.

      When volunteering in a terminal care facility, I often saw people who were given a certain amount of time to live, and sometimes, the projected timing was close to accurate....sometimes not. The extreme case that I remember, is a person who had an inoperable brain tumor, and was given 3-4 months to live. He lived for OVER 3 years!

      I think of every day as the possible LAST day of my life, and also, the FIRST day of the rest of my life:>)

      You insightfully recognize that we often need reminders. Could it be because on some level we think/feel we are imortal? Could be we are afraid to contemplate the end of life? Afraid of death? If we very seriously contemplate death, it often changes the way we live life. Are folks afraid of change? Probably many different reasons?
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      Jan 22 2013: This question is interesting to me in a larger context - how certainty or uncertainty affect our behavior. This question is at the core of many other issues of our society - economy, politics, security, religion. Certainty and uncertainty are fundamental to our existence. Both are related to our power and ability to change world around us. Examples are countless: Heisenberg principle, free will vs. determinism, omniscience vs. omnipotence, free market vs. socialism, planned economy, and social security, democracy vs. dictatorship. Evolution would be impossible without uncertainty (random mutations) or without certainty (ability of matter to reproduce itself in a predictable way). Etc. I'm getting too deep, thought...
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        Jan 23 2013: Thanks Colleen and Sean. Arkady, I think my story reflects a human paradigm around life and death that does play into the wider context you mention. Since we began to compete, to plan, to cherish gain, to count, we have become transfixed by these acquired skills to the extent we are governed by them. We do not live in the present anymore as do other creatures and still some humans. Within the struggle paradigm, the 'living in the future' framework, we fear death, we fight it and therefore succumb to being perpetually miserable as we struggle against something that is inevitable anyway. From this fear, all our social systems are born. Only as we each learn to be totally free within ourselves, will society begin to change.
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          Jan 23 2013: I'd say, people fear uncertainty most of all. E.g., some people are afraid of the dark. There is no difference between a dark room and a room with light. The only difference is that darkness introduces the "unknown" which is filled in with our imagination. Perhaps, people fear not the death itself which is certain, but the uncertainty of when and how it is going to come and what, if anything, comes after.
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          Jan 23 2013: Congrats Joanne. A nice way to explain it.
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      Jan 22 2013: Joanne, I agree with you. And I'd like to extend your idea: We should enjoy as a wonderful gift every good thing which happens to us. A good or nice dream; a wonderful breakfast; a gorgeous sky night; the glance or the smile of a baby; an hour spent in quiet and silence... and all this things. And the question is: Why we forget to do it so, and why we don't appreciate that kind of gifts? Why do we think this events are dued to us?
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      Jan 23 2013: Wonderful! Thanks for sharing this. I found life again at the doorstep of death and eversince try to live to the fullest as much as I can. If only we can learn from others and such expereinces and make ammendments today.

      I ask people to write a letter to those who matter to you most as though today was your last day. I believe it helps people refocus and allign thier life to what is most important to them and live a more fulfilling life.

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