The Politics of Working on Oneself

In 1972 the Club of Rome issued the controversial report, “Limits to Growth”. The study applied a computer model of socioeconomic trends, and determined that no matter how optimistically one tweaked this, that, or all variables, the future outcome of the trends was social and economic collapse – more or less delayed. Why? Because of the values underlying the social order.

Back then, the Stanford Research Institute also explored 40 possible alternative futures, and determined that a very few avoided a major world crisis before the year 2050. Willis Harman, director of the Institute concluded, “The macroproblem which the world faces,and which is rapidly and ineluctably becoming more serious, is at root a problem of value and basic premises – in short, a moral problem.”

If you are not hypnotized by the mainstream media whose daily inanities intentionally distract us from the socioeconomic chaos that is spreading throughout the developed and underdeveloped worlds (i.e., today’s kitty stuck in a tree story vs. growing world food shortages), then you understand that seemingly we are living one of those dark future paths. Is the issue still values? Consider Wall Street bankers whose personal greed has imperiled the social and economic order and the common good of 308 million Americans.

Now how does this relate to personal authenticity?

Our values are expressions of our personal psychology. Our upbringing within a given society imbues our personal psychology with the given values of our culture. Yet the attainment of adulthood does not signal the end of psychological maturation. Humanistic psychology instead suggests that there is an innate drive (i.e, Maslow’s self-actualization, Jung’s individuation) for continuing personal growth.

The Sufis call this process of self-actualization or working on one’s personal psychology – “polishing the mirror”. It is a work of refining the reactivities of our everyday personality so that it may more transparently reflect the magnanimity of our inner True Nature. They view the end result as your becoming a “complete human being.”

Whether you term it “self-actualization”, “individuation”, “personal growth”, or” polishing the mirror”, as we work on ourselves we reveal the Self and an order of values so very different from those underlying our deteriorating socioeconomic trends. As Maslow notes in Towards a Psychology of Being, “To spell out only one implication here, these propositions affirm the existence of the higher values within human nature itself, to be discovered there.”

Working on oneself is not narcissistic self-absorption. In my estimation, it is a human duty – a personal act of conscious evolution – a social imperative contributing to social evolution. And given its resultant transformation of values, working on oneself is a political act.


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