Amazing Possibilities!

  • Matthew Kelly

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

enduring happiness.


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

is progress?


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

better.


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

progress.


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

progress.

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.

Matthew Kelly


From Perfectly Yourself

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