- Gradual improvement or growth or development
- The act of moving forward toward a goal
- Develop in a positive way
- Move forward, also in the metaphorical sense
What is progress? Well, according to the definition, it is gradual improvement, developing in a positive way or moving forward towards a goal. So let’s start our discussion with the last item. If progress could be defined as moving forward towards a goal, what would our goal be as the human race? Is there a goal? Where are we progressing to? Is there an end point?
I don’t know about you, but I have never seen any indication of a goal we were trying to reach, although I have to admit that there have been many improvements along the way; and I’m sure there will be many to come.
Apparently, we started off somewhere in africa, with nothing but the skin on our backs, and gradually started to spread out towards asia and europe.
Let’s stop for a moment and compare where we are now, with that image of our distant ancestors out looking for food every day in the forest. I think we could agree that we have progressed.
Fellow humans, animals and the planet in general, have paid a terrible price over the years, and some people would undeniably question if our endeavours – however noble they may have seemed at the time – have ultimately been worth it. But for our discussion, there is no point in looking back at the past. We are here. We are in the now. Let us concentrate on today.
Neanderthal man vs. City latte man
It’s no competition, is it?
Neanderthal man out scraping together some food for himself and his family, wearing clothing made from animal furs and skins vs. modern man out shopping at the latest supermarket, wearing the latest fashion, arriving in style in his car, and going home to his warm comfortable house, where his children are (over) well fed every day, and go to school to be educated. If our ancestors were alive today, they wouldn’t believe what has happened to the planet. Imagine now you have time travelled from about 35,000 years ago, and have arrived in central london. What would you think, what would you see, what would you feel? You’d certainly be shocked at the changes. Concrete buildings, skyscrapers, cars, and aeroplanes, people in tailored clothes, food available to eat now or cook later. People dressed in suits, all rushing about, going nowhere in a hurry. Imagine the noise and the volume of people. The noise from cars and buses, the music blaring out from fashion clothing shops, people shouting, the smell from the traffic fumes, everybody passing each other in silence. Now quickly, you are transported back 35,000 years.
What do you see? Grass lands, marsh, trees, no rushing, no unnatural noise (no supermarkets either, nor comforts nor convenience and a short life expectancy to top it all). Now quickly you are transported forward to 2100. (93 years from now) What will you see? What will you smell? Who will be there? What will london look like? I only ask you to imagine the future, because if recent “progress” is anything to go by, it is anyone’s guess as to what Man will have done to the planet, let alone one city. According to scientists, planet earth was created about four billion years ago, but it is only since the second world war that things have really started speeding up.
Now nearly everybody in the developed world has a car, can buy their food at supermarkets, has satellite tv, central heating, hot water, education, healthcare, takeaway restaurants, public transportation, and mobile telecommunications. We have everything we could possibly want to make our lives easier, so in 2100 where could progress take us to next? Could it be that we don’t have to go out to work anymore, and all the jobs are done by robots, so we can enjoy maximum leisure time?
Maybe we will no longer need to use our limbs because everything is automated; or maybe we will not need to grow food anymore because chemists will have been able to make it artificially. Who knows where we will progress to technologically. We are more healthy than our ancestors, we live longer, we can enjoy the world more because we are no longer having to spend most of our day out gathering berries or hunting animals. We have comfort. Even people with little money still have more than our ancestors did. In most developed countries, we have a social welfare program, and some form of healthcare system to heal you when you are sick. Compare that with 35,000 years ago, where you would have to just lay down and die when you were sick.
Yes, we have definitely progressed in the physical material sense. We have a lot more than our ancestors ever did, and yes, we do seem to be happier. Our children are better looked after, most countries have a compulsory education system, and most people have some degree of literacy. All in all, we’ve done pretty well for ourselves, we homo sapiens.
We started with nothing and look what we have achieved. We have discovered how to make several hundred tons of metal fly safely in the sky from one corner of the globe to the other. We can cure all but the most complicated diseases. We can make sure we never go hungry by flying food from one country to another. Yet for all our material progress, we seem to be missing something… People are still going hungry, people still can’t read and write, people are abused and oppressed; people kill and are killed; men beat their wives; women beat their children; we cut down our forests; we pollute our rivers and oceans; we are angry; we are greedy; we are selfish; we are vengeful; we steal; we conquer; we lie; and we cheat. “Still,” you say, “we can’t progress in everything at once, things take time.” Except the development of the material world has been astoundingly swift, and the mere human has not yet caught up.
Unfortunately, we still share many characteristics with our ancestors, and although we have progressed slightly by reducing the number of people we cold bloodedly slaughter in any given year, it seems that for all our skyscrapers and lunar achievements, we still haven’t developed compassion for others.
We have a mind capable of great intelligence and the capacity for great tenderness, but we choose to be warlike. I know I have mentioned it a hundred times in this book, but I make no apologies for it.
Throughout time, individuals have got rich whilst other people suffer, all in the name of progress. But who is this progress for? Humanity? The earth? Let’s start by redefining progress, shall we?
As an individual, I may see progress as steadily getting a better job over time, and earning more money. For a company, progress may mean healthier profits every year, lower costs, and a position as market leader. For a country, progress may mean a booming economy, lower crime rates and a healthier working population. But what is the next stage up from a country? Surely it is the earth. What is the goal or objective for the earth? Is there one? And if so who’s goal is it? It seems to me we are only concerned with our little piece of the pie. Does an individual think of progress in terms of what is good for the planet as a whole? Of course he doesn’t. He is concerned with himself, and perhaps if they are lucky, his family.
But individuals have been encouraged by the state to forget about anyone else. Forget about the environment. Forget about the starving and the desperate. Forget about doing the right thing. As long as we say it’s legal concentrate on what is important. Making Money.
The fact that making money is placed on the priority list of almost everyone of working age, means there is no room for anything else.
Making money takes up all of your concentration and energy. Sure, you may donate a few pounds to a few charities every now and then, but you certainly wouldn’t leave yourself short, would you? You’ve got some money, so you give some away. You may even make yourself feel better by volunteering your time at some worthwhile charities, or you may even start a charity of your own like several multi-billion dollar corporations have done. The caring face of capitalism! But with some, I can’t help thinking it’s much like the land mine manufacturer setting up a hospital offering treatment for land mine victims! We should not be surprised that individuals want to progress, it is human nature to want to improve, to try to do things better, but most people seem to concentrate on external, material improvements. But hang on, here’s an idea, what about an internal improvement? Internal progress.
Given we’re so smart (most intellectual species on the planet and all), it shouldn’t be hard for us, it will give us a bit of a challenge.
We’ve already split the atom, we can fly to the moon and we can talk to someone on the other side of the planet who’s walking down the street. If we can do all these really, really complicated things (and believe me they are complicated), surely we must be able to progress in the being human department?
Come on! It’s so easy. All you have to do is develop some compassion and empathy for your fellow humans – you know, the ones you ignore in your busy money making individual pursuit schedule. Do you not think that real progress in the world can be made by devoting some of that already huge attention to yourselves on something more important than self-interest? I am not talking about working for worthwhile causes etc., as most of these charities have had to be set up because of other humans who have no compassion for others. The only thing I am asking you to do – in fact pleading with you to do – is to try to develop compassion.
Remember the definition? “The humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it.” I can tell you, it feels good not to just be thinking about myself anymore. I still wish to progress personally, but not at the expense of others. All I asked myself was: “Is what I am doing affecting others adversely?” And I have made a commitment to never undertake any work that contradicts this. It doesn’t mean you have to stop earning money, after all, it is the only recognised international method of exchange, but if your personal progress is the sum of your bank account, your house, your car, and your possessions, then you truly have missed out; and so have the other people in the world who could benefit from your compassion. After all, all humans are born equal. Naked and helpless. It is the compassion and love of others that helps them grow.
Progress is important. It makes us feel as if we are improving. The very word indicates a positive event. War and murder could never be seen as progress. So let us progress on this earth together. Individual by nature, joined by common goal, peace on our planet. Not by protesting for peace, but by developing compassion. It’s nice to have nice things, nice houses, cars, etc. but remember whilst there is no peace in man, all that is dear to you (your career, your money, your status, your possessions) could go up in smoke at the push of one man’s finger on a nuclear button. Think about it. All the progress you have made individually would be worthless. Everything you believed in would have no meaning.
Everything would return to dust. All at the push of a button. That is why real progress can only be made internally. Everything else we progress in, is ultimately nothing. Please go into this with me now. By developing compassion, the progress you make internally will deeply effect others externally. Positively. The world around you will be different. Why? Because you will be different. Gone will be the selfish, me, me, me, individual, who cares about nothing but making money and having a good time, and in its place will be someone who will make a difference in the world. Just by being compassionate, loving and empathic to all who exist here. It sounds so easy. Do it now. Stop.
Think about what you are doing. What are your goals? Are you only thinking about making money to support “me and my family?” “Does anything I do or say affect others adversely?” If it does, isn’t it time to rethink? Remember you may be dead in a few years, but there are hopefully many more generations to come. Let them enjoy this planet too.
Let us all progress together. Humans, animals, birds, fish, insects, and the planet itself. Let us progress through compassion, not technology.
by alan macmillan orr
“The Natural mind – waking up”