Why I Tell My Students, ‘Stay Alive!’

A Lesson of Existentialism: To Live is to Choose

Recently, one of my students approached me after class, asking, “Why, at the end of class, do you often tell your students to ‘stay alive.'” I told her that I would post my answer on WordPress; so here it is:

Unless a person’s life is cut short, ends prematurely by some kind of tragedy or disease — such as dying slowly from an inoperable cancer, dying suddenly from a heart attack, being murdered, dying of a drug overdose or being killed by an automobile accident or the like — life, in a very real sense, is a choice. In a way, every day a person chooses to stay alive. In short, to live is to choose.

There is really no getting around it: Human existence, life itself, is a choiceTo state the same point in the first person singular: I choose; therefore, I am. Even if I “run” from choosing, not wanting to choose, I choose to run from choosing, making a choice against making a choice. Because I make my choices, I “own them,” that is, I am responsible for them, for I, not someone else, perform them. I am, then, responsible for my life and death.

By my choices, for better or worse, I make myself into the kind of person I am. Therefore, usually or normally, living and dying are matters under a person’s control. I make choices, then, that promote, undermine or even attack my well-being, as in living recklessly or committing suicide.

To make my point in the second person plural: Like it or not, you exist; life has been given to you. Because you have the faculty of free-will, you choose what to do with your life. Therefore, every day you make choices for or against being alive.

The natural, opposite alternatives, then, for human beings are life and death. In the words of Scripture,

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life….” (Deuteronomy 30:19, NIV).

Since, by nature, human beings have an aversion to death and an inclination and “gravitation” toward life, then life is a great good to be preserved, protected and cherished. In other words, human beings should prefer life to death.

Ultimately, life and death are under God’s control, but immediately, right now, you have the control, choosing one or the other. Choose, then, at this moment, on this day, to live. That, then, is why, at the end of class, I often tell my students, ‘Stay alive!’