The Power of Progress
Are you making progress? It’s an important question to ask ourselves:
“Am I making progress?” I have not had much experience
with being perfect, but I have had considerable experience with
making progress. The reason I point this out is because when I am
making progress, I am a happier person than when I am obsessing
about some idyllic vision of perfection that I am falling short of.
Progress animates us. It brings us to life. When we sense that we
are making progress, we tend to be filled with passion, energy, enthusiasm,
purpose, and a real and sustainable joy. Progress fills us
with gratitude for the now and hope for the future. Progress creates
So are you making progress? If you don’t know, or if you have
to think about it too much, then you are probably not paying attention.
That’s the downfall of most people when it comes to the area of
personal development. We simply stop paying attention. The other
mistake we often make is to take it for granted that we are making
progress, as if adding another year to our lives is proof of progress.
The only way you can answer the question of whether you are
making progress honestly and without hesitation is if you have spent
considerable time thinking about it before now. But it is a question
whose answer evades most people. We can become so preoccupied
with what we have and what we do that we lose sight of who we are
and who we are becoming.
Are you making progress? Are you a better person today than
you were a year ago? Are you happier? More fulfilled? Are you a better
spouse? boyfriend? girlfriend? parent? child? employee? employer?
teammate? colleague? citizen? friend? Are you healthier? Are you more
financially independent than you were a year ago? Is your work becoming
more and more satisfying? These are all important questions,
but to answer them, we must first ask and answer this question: What
Shortly after World War II, Western culture became obsessed with
progress. Make no mistake—every age has had its own obsession with
progress. But what made the obsession with progress of the twentieth
century different was that we quickly began to consider progress and
change to be the same thing. In every aspect of society and culture,
people began demanding change as if change was always a good thing
and with the assumption that change always brought progress.
Western society has changed much in the past fifty years. Has the
change always been for the better? Some would argue that it depends
on what you consider better. But most reasonable people would concede
that no, change has not always been for the better. During the
past fifty years, for example, violence has escalated massively. It is a
change, but most reasonable people would admit that it is not for the
Change doesn’t equal progress. Change doesn’t guarantee progress.
Progress is moving toward a goal. If your goal in the 1950s was to
make our society more violent, then clearly you have achieved your
goal. But most people, if asked in the 1950s “Would you like society
to be more violent or less violent fifty years from now?” would have
responded in favor of reduced violence. Violence has increased, so in
this way we have not made progress. And worse than that, we have
regressed as a society in this area.
Progress is change for the better. Progress is change that makes
something more perfectly itself. Progress is any change, however
small, that makes someone more perfectly himself or herself.
What, then, do we wish to progress toward? For every person,
the answer would be different, and we will examine that shortly. But
for a moment, let’s ponder what collective preferences we have for
Most reasonable people are of good will and hold very similar
preferences when it comes to progress. They want the world to become
a better place, and they want to live happier lives.
When we start to think about these preferences, they begin to
transform into desires, and the more we think about them, the stronger
the desires become, and the stronger the desires become, the more we
align our actions with these desires and actually bring about the intended
The problem is that most people spend very little time thinking
about how they would like the world to become a better place, and so
they make very little contribution when it comes to moving the world
in that direction. If you asked them what their preference was, they
would tell you that they would prefer the world to become a better
place than to become a worse place. But their preference is never really
transformed into desire and action.
Most people will tell you that they would prefer to live happier
lives, but how much time do they actually spend thinking about how
they could create and live a happier life? The preference never becomes
desire. The desire never becomes action. But they will spend
their whole lives preferring a happier life.
Preference is not enough. Progress requires desire and action. The
Gospel rearranges our priorities and challenges us to actively seek
what God wants in every area of life.
It is not possible to create a genuinely happier life while not also
making the world a better place. So let us progress in the direction of
happier lives and a better world to pass on to our children and grandchildren.
No doubt, there will be some disagreement between different
people about what constitutes “better” and “happier.” We will explore
this further a little later in the context of our discussion about the role
character plays in our lives and society.
From Perfectly Yourself
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