This is a discussion of two works: Why Not?: Fifteen Reasons to Live, a book by Ray Robertson, and Fifteen Reasons to Live, a documentary directed by Alan Zweig that was inspired by Robertson’s book.
The concept of making a list of reasons to continue living, rather than to commit suicide, is probably one of the most important ideas anyone has ever had. Suicide is a permanent solution to what may be temporary problems. The suicide rate is about double the murder rate globally. In the US, suicide kills more people than do car accidents. It certainly rates as one of the most pressing topics of philosophy.
Ray Robertson received a university education in philosophy. As it turns out, academia frowns on the study of wisdom literature (you know, like Marcus Aurelius or Lao Tzu or Seneca) and the idea of using philosophy to solve practical problems, such as whether to live. He wrote this book based on his personal battle with OCD, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Now, I have to pause and say that one of the most interesting things about this book never makes it into the index. Robertson did a lot of research and stumbled across studies indicating that artificial sweeteners interfere with serotonin production, and caffeine depletes serotonin. He stopped drinking Diet Pepsi and started feeling better. STOP THE PRESS! If you ask me, we can take simple, straightforward actions like ditching diet soda and maybe get around to the philosophy at some later date.
I’m not sure whether reading Why Not? would do the job and convince someone to at least delay the most drastic act long enough to experience a perspective shift. It is a very literary, somewhat sarcastic, work. My tastes run more toward the optimistic and motivational, a tone that cynical people find annoying and unconvincing. Robertson says: “Fifteen reasons why one should live. Undoubtedly there are more; undoubtedly some of those I’ve chosen to celebrate in the following fifteen essays won’t resonate with every reader.” Seems legit.
What the heck. I’ll share mine. First, the best reason I could come up with not to commit suicide was that it is SERIOUSLY unfair to whomever has the misfortune to find the body. Nobody deserves that. Second, what if we really are here for some incredibly specific purpose, and we check out before the occasion comes up? If my life has no value to me, I should then be able to bear any amount of discomfort or inconvenience in being of value to some other person or cause. Dying, say, while rescuing a baby from a burning building is better than dying and just leaving a big mess. We can try to chalk up at least one major good deed.
Robertson’s list: Work. Love. Intoxication. Art. The material world. Individuality. Humor. Meaning. Friendship. Solitude. The critical mind. Praise. Duty. Home. Death.
My list: Love. Work. Duty. Curiosity. Beauty. Sex. Achievement. Music. Laughter. Possibility. Stubbornness. Adventure. Sensory delights, certainly not intoxicants, which I don’t appreciate, but fresh strawberries and hot baths, which I do. All the books I haven’t read yet. The brevity of life anyway. There is also that lurking suspicion that, if there is any kind of afterlife, suicides are categorized as cheaters.
Now to Zweig’s movie, Fifteen Reasons to Live. It’s short, at 84 minutes, and almost all of it is focused on interviews with people whose stories exemplify the fifteen reasons. Most of these stories probably could have been expanded into their own full-length pieces. I enjoyed it and thought it was well done.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.