“Stability is a condition of the good life. But so is growth. Without question, growth is desirable in the human individual. Parents who take delight in their child at each stage of her life nevertheless rejoice as the stages – each with its own special grace – pass and the child reaches out to adulthood. The child herself rejoices in growth, both for the gain in physical and mental competence and for the privileges that go with greater maturity. Up to the point of old age and decline, the more years one has the larger one’s world becomes and the greater one’s sense of control over it. Well-being is an expansive feeling, whether one takes in great droughts of fresh air or consumes a lovely landscape with one’s eyes. Life is mere maintenance without a sense of expansion and of moving on.
Adulthood means work. A job yields satisfaction if in addition to providing an income it allows one to grow in skill and thereby live at greater ease in a larger world. In a traditional society, a man begins his career as an apprentice, moves up to be a journeyman, and culminates as a master. A common criticism of modern industrial society is that many of its jobs do not allow for a worker’s growth. A job in the factory or at hte dock may bring in a good income, one that rises modestly over the years, but it provides no new challenge. Such a job would be crushingly oppressive if it were not for the fact that a worker can find the rewards of growth in other key ares of life such as his family and his living conditions. Alasdair Clayre says of the father of a docking family in England that he “did very much the same kind of labor throughout his working career, but meanwhile moved with his family from one room to a house, then to a house with a garden, and finally on retirement to a house close to the fishing which was his happiest occupation.” Against odds and hardships, this dock laborer was able to carry the family he loved forward. Clayre comments, “It may not seem, contrasted with some lives, a great story; but this is perhaps chiefly a defect in our conception of a great story. Neither for the scale of its satisfactions, nor for the fact that they are placed outside a job, is such a life to be judged ‘negatively’ by some philosophical stranger.”
The point is: this laborer’s life is a story – it has a forward thrust n the things that matter to him. Other examples easily come to mind. We think of the poet who works as a night watchman in order to find himself time and energy to write poems, the successful outcome of which is his story. In what area of life does one especially hope for growth? The answer varies with a individual’s temperament and background. For some it may be popularity or the capacity to feel, for others knowledge, the size of an investment portfolio, or the number of workers under their employment. Specific ends differ; what they have in common is the idea of life as a possessing a cumulative and forward thrust.”
InnerLight Enlightenment by Dr. William Kaya Erbil is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.