Tuesday, May 10, 2011

To Be, Or Not To Be

Current Reading: A combination of Scientific American and Discover Magazines from the last few months.

Inspirational Quote: "Lord we may know what we are, but know not what we may be." -William Shakespeare

I went to see a movie last month: Limitless. It's about a man who takes a pill that amps up his intellect. It's an intriguing premise, but the movie didn't take it in a direction that interested me, instead devolving into a pseudo-thriller/pseudo-superhero tale with superfluous violence. Good for popcorn sales, not so much for intellectual stimulation.

What intrigued me about this is the idea behind this line from the trailer: "How many of us ever know what it is to become the perfect version of ourselves?"

Of course, before we even start to think about this, we need to know exactly what we mean by "perfect." Defining "success" is hard enough. Defining "Perfection" is a task close to impossible.

Still, we can ask some simpler and more specific questions: How do we make ourselves the most creative we can be? The smartest? The most courageous? How do we overcome our weaknesses, our fears and doubts, and become the best we can?

How do we realize our potential?

In the film, it's a pill. I don't think that's a good way to go. It'd be revolting to think that my personal development depended on something that "wore off."

But beyond medication, there's the billion-dollar self-help industry. Dale Carnegie. Steven Covey. Every MBA with a book. They'll give you 12 steps, or 7 habits, or 9 favored aspects which, if followed religiously, will set your highest and best nature free of its restraints. They promise success (whatever definition may apply), and they may well deliver for all I know, but I honestly question how effective they are at promoting generic personal development.

But speaking of following something "religiously," there's religion itself. There are lots of belief systems, each of which is the only one you'll ever need. Each, if you follow its precepts, promises enlightenment or salvation or the chance to become a higher, better being.

I'm not dumb enough to even try to comment on the effectiveness of this approach beyond saying, "It works for some people."

I believe the realization of personal potential is the goal of individual existence. I often hear people ask themselves, "What am I here for? What's my purpose?" as though they're looking for some niche in which they can slot themselves and say, "this is it." I don't think it works that way. I think our purpose is to try to become our best selves, nothing more, but in attempting that I have no doubt we will do things more wonderful than we ever thought possible.

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