About Progress


I was thinking yesterday about something which is very important to us: our progress, our development, our expansion in life.

We live in a society where there are many people suffering from the lack of knowledge of what to do with their lives. The question: “what am I supposed to do with my life?” is a very common one. Somewhere in the past it was not like this, it was very different. If your father was a carpenter, you would become a carpenter. If your father was a metal worker, you would be a metal worker. If your father was a lawyer, you would be a lawyer. The family tradition would pass from generation to generation, and so there was nothing to think about; you were born into a certain place you will just do what you were supposed to do. But now in our free, open societies everything is possible; there is the possibility to become anything one wants… at least in theory. We live in times were choices are possible and this, without a doubt is a wonderful opportunity…but it is also a time for uncertainty:  ‘Ok, I can become anything I want but, what do I want!?’ This uncertainty is simply the price that has to be paid for our freedom.

Finding out what to do with our lives is an aspect of progress, but it is only the beginning. When we think about progress we often think of a bigger house, a better car, more money, more power; we think of starting a family or of increasing the one we already have; or to have more knowledge in order to have a better job, to climb the ladder in our company, of becoming a boss or an owner, etc, etc. Without a doubt all these are aspects of progress but, from my point of view, they are far—very far—from being the only thing.

Another aspect of progress—and this is just one way of saying it—is becoming a more complete human being. What does this mean? What is a ‘more complete human being’?

What has been mentioned until now is an external kind of progress, based on acquiring more in life. But there is also an inner progress: as human beings, we are not born complete beings but are left to our own efforts to develop. Nature gives us some powers, like the power to survive or the power to defend ourselves, but these are actually the powers we share with plants and animals.

For example a tree knows how to survive. If for any reason some light is hidden from a tree, the tree will move around the obstacle into the light. Or if something falls into the tree, the tree will try to bend or change direction; it will manage to survive. And it is not so different with us. Many of the activities we do are based on our survival. We share this power with the tree, and so surviving—making it in life, in our language—does not make me a human being.

Another root for our activities is fear. We learn to defend ourselves from possible confrontations, we learn how to react when there is a danger…but a dog will do the same. If a dog is attacked, he will protect himself and use all his strength to overcome his problem.  So we share this with dogs…but it really does not make us human. So what is it to be human?

A tree does not know it is a tree. A tree is like a program and nature, Life, its programmer. There is only one way for a tree to behave: like a tree. The tree has absolutely no choice but being a tree.

A dog does not know it is a dog. A dog is like a program and nature, Life, its programmer. There is only one way for a dog to behave: like a dog. A fox terrier in china will act the same way as a fox terrier in Australia. But a dog is not like a tree. The two fox terriers will have basically the same behavior, but the way they will react to very specific things will vary according to the way they were trained. A dog has a very rudimentary possibility of choice.

A human being knows he or she is a human being. A human being has been given the capability of reason, which means they have been given the possibility of understanding what they are and the choice to act according to this understanding.

And it is in this understanding where the opportunity to progress, to evolve, lies.

– What am I?

– I’m a human being.

– Ok. But what does this mean?

To answer this question we have a choice; and this choice depends on our understanding of who we are.

– I understand to be a person that cannot rely on anything or anybody in order to survive in this hateful world.

– I understand to be a person that needs to protect his belongings, including his family, from any threat.

– I understand to be a person that belongs to a country that that may be in constant danger of being damaged.

– I understand to be a member of a society that needs my support.

– I understand to be a part of this wonderful world and that I’m responsible for it.

– I understand to be Life, and as such, I know that everything is mine, that everything belongs to Life.


All of these can be understood by different human beings. Which one we pick is our choice: it is our cross; it is our freedom.

Categories: Reflections

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