Sunday, November 23, 2008

Framework for Human Flourishing

There is a wide array of terms that attempt to get at what I want to call “flourishing.” These include concepts of flow, fullness, being fully alive, self-actualization, and many others. It seems to me that all of these conversations are attempting to answer the more foundational question: what does it mean and look like for human beings to flourish? As I posted before, this question is on my mind more than any other.

Over Turkish coffee and hookah in Hyde Park the other night, two friends and I came up with a vision of what it might look like for us to flourish in community together. While the discussion was mostly geared toward our travel plans together, I think the framework we established might be more widely relevant. It’s essentially a five-point vision:

1) Exposure
We want to be continually exposed to other peoples’ realities. This could mean sleeping with the homeless, understanding a place’s politics, dining with the marginalized, and being seriously embedded in real relationships with people whose lives have the ability to fracture our perspective.

2) Intellectual growth
We must be exercising and stretching our intellect, forcing ourselves to think in greater nuance about more things. I want to be able to see the world sociologically, anthropologically, poetically, musically, economically, politically, and scientifically.

3) Celebration
This may sound cheesy, but we have good reason to celebrate all of the good things we have been given and entrusted with. From dancing all night to being engaged in the beauty of music and artistic expression, we need to continually counter the gray and sleepy humdrum of modernity with an engaged and hearty spirit of playfulness and foolishness.

4) Creating
My boss once told me that leaders need to ask themselves two questions: 1) What am I creating? and 2) Do people believe me? While this is bent toward entrepreneurial leadership, it speaks strongly to my desire to not only critique, but create. However informal or subtle, we need to hone our ability to translate ideas into reality, as Adam has with this blog.

5) Discipleship
Regardless of one’s faith or moral tradition, we are becoming a certain sort of person as. How are we surrounding ourselves with sources and creating habits that enable us to move toward ideality. My personal ideal is the person of Christ, but yours could be King, Nietzsche, Gandhi, or Dylan. The question remains, how are we becoming the disciples of our heroes?

I realize that this is an unscientific, somewhat vague, and idealistic vision of human flourishing. What are your thoughts on this? Is flourishing an entirely personal venture or, as the field of positive psychology asserts, can we come up with frameworks for understanding fullness? In your experience, where does this framework miss the mark?


ac said...

Oh the irony Dave, that you pick a word to describe your idealized human existence, and it also happens to be my sorority's latest motto: "Flourish!" :)

On your post though, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you've written, especially the point on counterbalancing the constant pursuit of a fractured perspective with shenaniganisms.

My only question to you is: how would one engage with Tom Foolery honestly, without guilt, after spending his other hours engaging with the less privileged. I ask because I tried to do this myself -- why I got so involved in Greek life and in my own research -- and I constantly found myself trying to mitigate unexpected pangs of guilt when I plopped down money for a cute t-shirt or a formal, money that to others, could feed their family for weeks. The Dean of Students even asked me directly: AC, how can you deal with sorority girls drinking and engaging in debauchery while also researching the exploitation of women in other countries? I answered that doing both allowed me to maintain personal balance, to keep perspective -- but I certainly didn't feel like I flourished in the process, many times I just felt torn between the two.

So how would you address the unexpected emotions, repsonses in your vision of flourishing? Or would you just argue that this kind of stretching is just another type of mental acrobatics necessary TO flourish?

Ali said...

This blog is out of control.

Dave said...

AC, yes I totally live in that tension everyday. I just believe that we have to find ways to celebrate and be a part of social justice efforts. Joy, love of life, and passion for justice are not necessarily opposed..

At the end of the day, it's obviously a deeply personal line, but we cannot face every decision like a tradeoff between egoism and otherness. Enjoy life in service to others... :)