We will be hosting a group discussion on this topic on Thursday, Nov. 12 @ 7pm ET entitled Playing a New Game: Integrating Productivity w/ Personal Development. More details here.
Dear Stoa and its adjacents,
I am in the midst of investigating what it means to be in right relationship with productivity and personal development. Now these are two loaded words so allow me to offer my definition for each.
I see productivity as building something in the long run. To structure your agency and your work towards something that benefits you and the collective long term. I see personal development as a way to increase your capacity to contribute to your community. A subset would be resilience to be able to handle the day-to-day of working on something ambitious.
If you see where I am about to go with this, then you would know that I am going to propose that to be in right relationship with productivity and personal development is to know that there are times when one needs to step up to solve problems right in front of them (finance, having enough energy, skills building), which requires less complaining (a Zen-like attitude) on their part, but then there are times one can be present and authentic, enjoy the small things and practice acceptance.
There is a big market for self-help books and I imagine that it is because people are starving for wisdom. Of course this is not the only reason; there are plenty of reasons why one might want to develop themselves. But the desire to develop one’s self comes with some sort of recognition that they are not enough and that they have to achieve in order to feel that they are enough which is of course false. Achieving is not necessarily amoral or a vice; however, being overly identified with your pursuit of achievement can be self-destructive.
I am all for people having major ambitions as long as they are honest with themselves. When Peter Limberg talks about para-egoism in his journals, he is referring to a detachment that comes in the process of working towards one’s goals, which is what I think more people need to adopt if they want to work through the struggles of being in a capitalist system.
What I think the dance is is remaining persistent within the capitalist system and pivoting towards “change”. However, most people are stuck at relying on the capitalist system to meet their basic needs. It is why people will pay money for how-to manuals for finance and career ascension and love because fulfilling these needs provides a ton of psychological and physiological safety for them.
What I can say is that there is no “one size fits all” solution. Even as I say that capitalism is a problem and change is required, I am also saying that not all of our needs are material — they are spiritual and existential as well.
Will the conditions for meeting psychological and physiological safety change under different systems? Admittedly, yes. Switching to a system where material needs get met will still have its own share of challenges and I will get into this a bit later. Eventually we should move beyond relying on the system to get our needs meet, but in order to move beyond, we should have some skill and competency with the current system.
It is not surprising to me that guests sometimes talk about civilization-level operating systems that scale. But what happens when you do think about trying to scale? It is difficult to maintain deep interaction with scale because of Dunbar’s number, which is the notion that there is a limit to which a group of human beings can sustain social stability and coherence and that number caps off at 150. It is also difficult to have a national-level discussion on systems change precisely because there are too many voices to account for. Additionally, there are multiple conversational threads due to the nuance and complexity of the topic.
What I can say is that there is no “one size fits all” solution. Even as I say that capitalism is a problem and change is required, I am also saying that not all of our needs are material — they are spiritual and existential as well. For example, love is not a material resource that can be re-distributed evenly to each individual. So to ask “Why not just advocate for socialism?” can help from a material perspective, but not completely from an existential perspective. A social safety net can make it more feasible for one to go on a spiritual path, but it is not a requirement.
Where I think The Stoa and other communities could help the modern world in the interim is to provide the mutual support necessary for people to execute the change they want to see, whether it be local or global. In the short term, the Stoa and its adjacents can provide the strong sense of community that people are longing for. Community will continue to be a priority for human beings as we are social animals.
The people at The Stoa and its adjacents are engaging in developing personal sovereignty to open themselves up for collective wisdom. Wisdom is about orienting ourselves to what matters most in our world and that includes freeing ourselves from anti-social distractions and taking care of Earth’s finite resources. Spirituality is getting more popular, but the frame of adopting spirituality in our modern world is that it reinforces hyper-individualism (check out “McMindfulness”) rather than upgrade collective wisdom. We are going to need all the help we can get, from people of different walks of life who have gathered wisdom in their own unique way!
We are asking people to get wise but be okay with not having all the answers right away. Being able to maintain diversity while coming to coherence will be the biggest tightrope walk we will have to take. It will require a lot of co-ordination but I am optimistic that we can pull through, but with one huge caveat: we have to truly listen to each other!