Progress: is it necessary?

Progress:n. a forward or onward movement (as to an objective or to a goal), gradual betterment.

America’s culture is all about progress — New! Improved! Bigger! (Smaller!) Smarter! Stronger! Thinner! Faster! Wealthier!

We compare the past to the present and expect progress to have happened. We compare the present to the future (even the beginning of the day to the end of it), and hope that we will soon be farther along than we are now.

But is this realistic? Are we playing in a giant pyramid scheme bound for collapse?

Certainly More! is not working for us these days. The more of us there are on this fragile planet and the more stuff we have the faster we use up nature’s resources. We have trouble facing the fact that life is a cycle: birth, growth, decline, death. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Focusing on birth and growth is so much more rewarding than thinking about the decline and death part.

In an economic downturn and a climate crisis – both of which are global in scope, can we re-program our progress mindset and begin valuing stasis? Or even contraction?

I’m not optimistic. As much as I’d like to live fully in the moment, not striving for a better later, my own personal history points to problems.

For example, when I was a stay-at-home mom with two little kids, my life looked like this: shop, cook, eat, wash dishes, shop, cook, etc. Repeat.  Clean house, bathe kids and do laundry, then family dirties up house and selves, clean house, bathe kids and do laundry. Repeat.

At the end of the day I fell into bed feeling like I had done NOTHING. That is, I had made no forward or onward movement and could see no betterment of our condition.  Only if I did something new that had a longer arc of life before decline set in would I feel satisfied. Sewing new curtains, planting a shrub, or completing a writing assignment – now those efforts indicated progress.

I often wonder if cave woman had these same frustrations or if she chopped wood and carried water, putting one foot in front of the other – simply grateful that nobody in her family had been eaten by a saber-tooth tiger that day.

Regardless of how cave woman dealt with the notion of progress, it’s clear I need to re-tool my attitude. Since my retirement savings have been slashed by half, I will heretofore define progress as Less! Smaller! Fewer! Cheaper!

Right now the sun is shining, there is a tree in flaming reds across the street lighting up the sky, and I’m going out to rake leaves. For today, that will be enough.


2 responses to “Progress: is it necessary?

  1. Maybe we just need to focus on the ‘gradual betterment’ definition of progress, instead of accepting the false definition ‘big business’ has attached to the word: that progress has to mean bigger and more. If we live each day content with doing the same thing in the same way all the time, we could end up making the same mistakes over and over again. A gradual betterment could be the realization that limiting the size of one’s family is a good thing; or that learning to do more with what we have, instead of simply wanting more things, can be rewarding.
    And we need to learn to evaluate what is offered to us as progress: to consider the long term implications instead of the short term gain.

  2. But how much do you need to progress to have it register on the progressometer? In my case it has to be apparent by nightfall. That’s mighty hard to maintain.