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MLA Full: "Redefining What it Means to Matter." YouTube, uploaded by vlogbrothers, 3 June 2016,
MLA Inline: (vlogbrothers, 2016)
APA Full: vlogbrothers. (2016, June 3). Redefining What it Means to Matter [Video]. YouTube.
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Chicago Full: vlogbrothers, "Redefining What it Means to Matter.", June 3, 2016, YouTube, 03:52,
I don't want this video to sound like a "Oh, you don't have to do big things, you can just live a little life." We all have to work very hard...there are a great many things that need to get done. We need to heal each other, deal with catastrophe and war and increasingly scarce resources.

These are huge things that are going to be done by many teams of people and absolutely ZERO isolated individuals. But we have to understand that the mythology of the singular hero is dubious at best. In fact, we are all going to work our BUTTS off to make the world better for ourselves and for each other. How you do it is up to you. Thank you for doing it in whatever way you can...for using your abilities and your skills and your talent and your labor for future generations (and all of us today) to feast upon.

The comic from the beginning:

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Good morning, John. About a week ago, I saw this comic, from Korean artist Yaho on Tumblr. It had 88,000 notes. This is, I feel, a common and persistent theme that I'm hearing from people on the internet. I heard it from people who came to my shows and talked to me. I hear it from people in my real life, and in my own brain I hear this.

The thing that we want and we crave in our lives, in addition to stability, is meaning. And I think it's getting harder and harder to find. The whisper of culture tells us that salary is a good surrogate for meaning. But we're also asked, and we want to make a change, to help people, to make the world a better place. We want to have an impact, a big one, like what's-his-face from Facebook, or Elon Musk. I honestly can't remember his name right now. What is it? Zuckerberg.

And while you're at it, might as well fulfill all of the #goals. You've gotta have your squad goals and your relationship goals and your career goals and your kitchen goals. And if you don't have it all, then you're not quite there. So keep working and keep wanting and someday, maybe.

Culture has always told us lots of lies, but it seems like it's getting better at it. Look back at that comic. What signal are we getting from culture that individual humans matter at all? When human labor is commoditized, as it is now, when do we stop appreciating the work that people do to make our lives better? And when that happens, when do we stop ever feeling appreciated for the work that we do? Without humans appreciating humans for the work they do, where is meaning supposed to come from?

Earlier this week I asked Twitter if they would rather be happy or make a difference. Now, in addition to it being almost exactly a 50/50 split, a ton of people said they could not imagine being happy without making a difference. The problem is, our cultural mythology is the thing that tells us what counts as making a difference. And the most common surrogates for that are fame and money. And those metrics suck. They have to suck because they will always be scarce, and they will always be defined in relation to what other people have, not in absolute terms.

We're headed into a world that is dramatically different from the one that our parents lived in, a world where many machines are going to take over the jobs that humans have had. And as fewer and fewer people have what we would consider normal employment, normal jobs, we're going to have to redefined not just what work is, but what meaning is. Because we all want to make a difference, and it makes sense that we all want to make a difference, because we are a cultural species. That drive is what has made humanity so wonderful and powerful.

But I think we're starting to expect a little to much in this regard. We can't all be Elon Musk. In fact, I would argue that Elon Musk can't be what we think of as Elon Musk. Thomas Edison didn't invent the light bulb. The Wright Brothers didn't invent flight. Elon Musk has never built an electric car. These are all stories, they're good stories, they're inspiring stories, but they're stories we tell because the real story is too complicated. That's the story of how every human being that has existed and currently exists labored together to build this world. And yeah, humans will always have arguments about the best way to do that, and some of the ideas we've had have been colossally bad.

But in our tour van last week, Joe DeGeorge said something to me that I will never let go of: Tonight we feast on the labor of centuries. Because we do. Every day and every night the good things that we have in our lives are mostly because other people worked to make life better. And all I can ask is that my forgotten labors will add to the forgotten labors of other people that have made life on earth better.

And as I've worked harder to try and appreciate all of the work that has gone into building my home, and my town, and my country, and my world, I find myself being happier with who I am and where I am. 'Cause in the end we matter because we make life better for people around us and also for people in the future.

The story of humanity is not a story of a few people who had huge, gigantic effects on the world. That's only the story we hear because it's the easy story to tell. Caring for ourselves and other people is the only thing that has ever mattered to the future of our species, and sometimes even that care is very difficult, but other times it won't be. And that, even when I've had really dark times in my life, is the one thing that I've tried to be sure about.

John, I'll see you on Wednesday.