As soon as we pause and start asking the question “What matters?”, we enter the antechamber of philosophy. We are not yet thinking per se if we are still thinking about something that would matter (a job for example) in comparison with something else that could matter (a relationship for example). Yet, as soon as we ask: “Does this matter?”, the philosophical leap is close. Such a leap happens when we pause a little longer and consider the question “what matters?” for itself. Not what matters when I compare my job and my family life, not even yet what matters when I evaluate my desires and my duties — but first and foremost what does it mean to ask the question of mattering.
“What matters?” is a question. When we have a question in front of us, we should always ask: “How is it phrased?” We could have asked: “What is important?” But in asking “What matters?”, we are partly led to think about material realities, as if we were pondering different existential weights, according to their gravity. “What matters?” not only means “What is important?” but also “What is it that I have to carry that is of heavier weight?” This is a metaphor: if such weight can be felt by the body, it can also be light as a feather, apparently imperceptible. Hence the difficulty sometimes to decide what matters existentially, for you, for me, for us, because spiritual realities, as opposed to material realities, can be forgotten, ignored, or appear to remain “out of the matter.”
We would not ask “What matters?” if what mattered was purely material, because it would be obvious as a thing. It would be more or less heavy and objective. The mere fact of asking “What matters?” shows that we are not sure, or that we forgot for a while. It suggests that our reality is not an obvious book that could be read like a recipe or a code of behaviour. Whenever we ask ourselves “what matters?”, we are re-enacting the Cartesian cogito. By asking, for yourself: “What is not an illusion?”, you receive a first indirect answer: “If I think about what matters, and if I ask myself the question rather than asking journalists, or professors, or friends, or enemies, or the social norms, then this means I am considering myself as the source of my thinking. I am therefore affirming that I do matter as a thinking being.
“I doubt for a while about what matters, therefore I am.”
At the same time, and this is the intersubjective aspect of the cogito which was so important for the existentialists (Sartre) and the phenomenologists (Merleau-Ponty), I have to admit that all beings that are capable of thinking about the question “What matters?” without immediately answering it with a pre-existing answer proposed by a given social consensus or ideology, all these beings should also matter to me in a similar manner that I matter as the source of my questioning. Philosophy, as a quest for what deeply matters, is not a solipsism, it is an intersubjective communion of minds.
Minds? Can we better determine who is this intersubjective cogito, this collective entity that asks “What really matters?” This, by definition, has to be answered collectively, in a dialogue of thinkers.
But I would like to offer you one possible answer, open for discussion.
Let’s start from the beginning anew.
And if there is a beginning, it is perhaps because there is an end. Would we ask “What matters?” if we were eternal? If our existence was infinite, we would eventually experience all there is to experience, the most profound and the most superficial. We would have a thousand lives. Everything and nothing would matter, because we would be caught in a story without end, where each event could turn out to be important or insignificant in the course of a million years. This is precisely the implicit moral of the current dominant Darwinism or Chaotism. An infinitesimal and often accidental modification can produce strong effects in several million years or in some other region of the universe. Conversely, the beauty of a poem is considered to be a negligible drop in the ocean of matter’s metamorphoses.
Today, matter matters too much.
But when we ask “What matters?”, we are positioning ourselves out of the evolutionary process where every thing is interrelated in a materialistic chain of causes and effects, and where death does not really exist, being a mere transformation of structures and matter. When we ask “What matters?”, we are aware that as an individual thinking being, we might very well be mortal and have one life only, as opposed to one billion chances. The question: ”What matters?” is a question for someone who needs to make choices (or not), to fulfil a destiny (or not), in any case to renounce a great deal of experiences for the sake of other experiences, beliefs, or values. This person may like to find an ultimate answer, the answer that allows her or him to say that “nothing else matters.” This desire can turn the question “what matters?” into a deadly weapon. History shows us that much blood is sacrificed over the idea that only one thing and nothing else matters, be it a God, a Nation, Money, Sex or Family. Because we believe we are mortal and that life is short, we tend to adopt universalist views of what matters, views that we can share with others without contradiction or doubt. We become afraid of stopping and asking if this absolutism itself really matters, because we believe we will be left behind in the race for social conformism. Fanatics of this-that-matters are often not satisfied with following the illusion for themselves, be it a religion or a social consensus: they want the contagion to expand, because they do not want anybody to ask them: “Does it really matter?” Therefore, they reproduce the illusion every day, they maintain it as a strong social reality simply by acting as if it mattered the most. “Get a real job!”, “Join our Church!”, “Join Our Party!”, “Put your family first!”, “Buy our new mindfullness programme!”
Beware those who tell you what matters! They share a common ideology: the idea that their reality matters, a reality that they call The Reality.
But when the intersubjective thinker has the courage to carefully ask: “What matters?”, she, he, we realise that reality is over-rated. Reality seems to matter because it seems to stand there in front of us, in the form of credit cards, buildings, institutions, television, bodies, rituals, loss, etc. But the being that asks what really matters is nothing of the kind, nothing material: it is a spiritual aspiration, and therefore can never be satisfied or troubled for too long with matter.
“What matters?” This that can never be matter: spirit.