While reading articles and blogs, I sometimes come across writers who extol growth. It’s a fuzzy buzzword that appears often in self-help or spiritual writing. Growth is usually presented as a positive virtue.
In the mental and “spiritual” realms, growth is some lofty path that supposedly continues infinitely higher and higher. Growth is always sold to us as a very good concept. We’re told that we should always strive to grow.
I must admit that I’ve pretty much bought into the “growth culture”. Growth is part and parcel of nearly every human venture from physical, to mental, to financial, to business, and so forth. From the time we are born, we begin to grow in many ways.
It appears that growth is vital to our survival and our ability to thrive in an often hostile world. It even feels good to expand our physical and mental reach each step of our lives.
Advocacy of growth is the one concept about which many wisdom traditions agree. Religious authorities say that if we are to be saved or achieve enlightenment, we must grow. In other words, growth is a pretty heady subject. However, have you ever stopped to question the idea of growth?
Certainly, we understand that it would be disadvantageous to be stuck in the stage of childhood the rest of our lives. Even though we may sometimes feel a wave of nostalgia about the simplicity of our childhoods, most of us find the idea of being stuck in childhood horrifying. We are familiar with the many attributes of adulthood and wish to retain them.
It’s also obvious that we need to keep up with the latest developments and techniques related to our work and careers. The ways we make a living are not static. It’s wise to hone one’s skills.
Likewise, we should expand our intellectual knowledge about the world and society around us. Naiveté is not advantageous, nor is it a virtue.
At what point is the act of growth enough? When have we developed our physical muscles to an optimum amount? When do we have more than enough intellectual knowledge so we aren’t tempted to feel like a member of an elite? When do we have enough wisdom to know when to consolidate our “spiritual” learning so we don’t fall prey to spiritual pride?
While we can generally agree that growth, per se, is a good and admirable thing, when does our desire for growth become obsessive? When do we become so focused on growth, that we forget how to live? Can we arrive at the place where we have grown too much?
To be clear, I do not advocate the current trend of know-nothing, education bashing. In fact, I find that unnerving. One of the best privileges of living in a modern democratic republic is access to free public education. It’s good to have a working knowledge of many different subjects in order to prepare ourselves for a relatively independent adulthood.
We surely want to have access to continuing education opportunities so we can keep up with changes in our careers and topics of which we find interesting. A well-informed public is better equipped to deal with our volatile world.
The same goes for “higher” knowledge. Having peaceful, inquisitive wisdom is essential for a satisfying, joyful life. Being able to appreciate a fair amount of philosophy, science, art, and literature contributes to our personal growth. It is this “higher” wisdom that enables us to better interact with our fellow humans, creatures, and the environment around us. This wisdom helps us live better with oneself.
When we spell it all out, growth is a good thing. Still, the questions remain: When do we experience enough growth? Is there some sort of peak growth?
I can only ask the questions and share them with you. I don’t have the answers, nor do I know if there are answers to them. I do think that it is helpful to ask ourselves these questions.
Although I don’t believe anyone has definitive answers to them, I think it’s important we explore them from time to time.