Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Of the Mythology of Progress

It's quite simply what makes us, well, us. It's this inherent human ability to fall and fail, over and over... and over. That and this strange fascination we have with believing we've recovered. Nothing trumps a good come back story, or a true (or for that matter, created) underdog. But is our facade legitimate or is there a deeper reality at play? We love to diagnose our recovery through the absence or lessening of our symptoms, but is that really indicative of progress? Or is it the evidence of a results-driven methodology in a society of people tired to death of failing? Could it be that the historical progress of mankind is a myth? Could it be that my own progress is more fairy tale than fact as well?

Surely in the past few millennia, man has progressed, right? We've pasteurized milk, invented the car, put a man on the moon, and only heaven knows how much further the microchip can take us. We've experienced the renaissance, the reformation, and the industrial revolution. But have we really advanced? We have all these resources, all this wealth, all this technology, all this need-meeting ability... and there are still starving countries, orphaned kids, and persecuted brothers all across the world. All this knowledge, wisdom, and revelation, and we are still completely willing to burn friendships and strangers to selfishly pursue whatever we want at that moment. We dehumanize enemies - both the big-picture war ones, and the ones we encounter every day - the lady at work we think is rude, the person we're trying to date that we just don't get, the friend who didn't meet our expectations. It's the story of man kind, like it always has been - get what you want, if someone is in your way or doesn't treat you perfectly - dehumanize them so you don't mind the fact that you don't care about them and move on. The progress of man...? It's just not reality.

What about my own though? I've developed. I no longer do what I did when I was a child. Or when I was 16, 18, 20, or for that matter - 24. I've progressed - when I was a child, I acted like a child. But have I progressed nearly as much as I, or others might think? That's the real question. Because in real terms, when I look at my progress, I usually look at in terms of "Well, I used to date like this - and now I date like this" and "I used to lie about this, and now I don't" and "I used to have a real pride issue here and now I don't"

But here's the fun part - none of that is truly indicative of progress at all. Just because I've modified behaviors over the years does not mean I've truly grown - it just means I've learned to alter my behavior to get the results I want. I didn't like how dating relationships looked when I did A, B, and C - so I started doing X, Y, and Z. Plug in career moves, friendships, apartment hunting, or working out in that equation and it works just the same. Meaning? All I've really progressed in (if that is my measurement) is my ability to figure out and obtain what I want - which isn't an awful thing, just not what I really want to measure.

Now do I think I've progressed? I do, but it is not nearly as much a measurable item as we'd like to think. It's a realization of where my heart is. And the ability to see in my life the places where things I want (relationship, career, whatever) take second seat more and more to the thing I truly desire (that Christ be my center and my focus). Funny how you grow up and you finally realize that what you want isn't necessarily your desire or your goal or even worth working towards. And that's the true progress - the times I can look at my life and see that the things I "want" aren't the things I need, and that because I can recognize what is truly best for me and those around me, I can put my own selfishness aside and pursue what really counts - loving God and loving others. If we measure progress any other way, we're just giving ourselves a false sense of accomplishment, and maybe (just a little) justifying the weaknesses we want to gloss over.