From Animal to Human

evolutionA basic understanding of Transitionalism can be found by exploring four main points. The first is the question of meaning: why are we here and what is the purpose of our existence. The second relates to where have we come from, where we are now and where are we going. Based on our desire for a positive future, the third point relates to what do we need to do that will allow us to realize such goals. Lastly, how are we to go about mobilizing people and resources to make this agenda happen.

In this post I want to focus on the third point, the kind of changes we need to make, as well as the means by which we would go about making them on the individual and social level. The brief answer is: the principles and practice of self-actualization. What this means for individuals will be different than for society, therefore, for this post we will cover the topic of individual self-actualization and save social self-actualization for the next post in July. (For a more detailed discussion of individual self-actualization refer to the book, Meaning, Being and Transition, pg. 76).

Individual Self-Actualization
What is individual self-actualization? Actually, it is not one thing, but many things. Self-actualization frames the practice of Transitionalist ideas and values. Self-actualization is a commitment to a way of life that is both self-conscious and aware of others with the goal of seeking the betterment of both. It is a set of practices for individuals to live in intimate connection with others and to the environment, with the goal of realizing your own sense of a meaningful satisfied life by making the most of what you have to offer. It is the development and realization of a clear honestly established set of goals that infuse one’s self with a passion for life, providing for the care and cultivation of all that is positive, while accepting that everything – including one’s self – is transitory. In this way we view living life as a process of becoming, where the practice of self-actualization, while populated with goals to mark the journey, has no destination.

Three Individual Responsibilities
Practicing self-actualization is framed within a set of responsibilities – to Self, Society, and the Environment founded on the recognition that neither exists without the other, revealing that everything is connected to everything else. In this way a positive outcome for one thing should equate to a positive outcome for everything else.

Areas of focus relate to the responsibility to self, including basic physical health and wellbeing combined with the cultivation of mindfulness, self-knowledge, self-empathy, curiosity, and finding a passion, in addition to being whole and interdependent, while feeling emotionally independent and maintaining a sense of humor.

Existing within an immersive dynamic of interdependencies, individuals also have responsibility to others and society. There is the awareness of the affect one has on others encouraging one to live a life with integrity, honesty, and empathy. Then there is the need to cultivate one’s perspective on events and their consequences within the scope of space and time and finally, one should be willing to contribute to society based on a bond of mutual respect and acceptance.

The third responsibility is to live in ways that contribute to sustaining the environment in which we exist recognizing it as the fountainhead of our being.

Practice is delineated into the Four Levels of Self-Actualization where one either chooses an exercise level felt to be the most appropriate to their personal needs or approach it as a progressive program comprised of successive steps.

Purpose for Self-Actualization
Driving the practice of self-actualization are three motivations. The first is to offer people alternative means of finding meaning in their lives while at the same time building a new sense of community. More fundamental, is to offer individuals the emotional and psychological tools needed to negotiate a time in human evolution that is expected to be exciting and remarkable, yet like other historical periods marked by significant and rapid change, the challenges to people will also prove very difficult.

Most fundamental is the recognition that human beings, as we are now, represent humanity still in its early stages of development. It is only recently in evolutionary terms that we began asking the question of who we were, what our purpose was, and about what our place is in the scheme of things; thereby being able to distinguish ourselves from animals. Yet, we remain challenged by our animal legacy due to the process of evolution that overlays new function and capabilities on top of previous ones. In this sense, Transitionalism and the practice of individual self-actualization shares the goals of every religion, spiritual tradition, philosophy and sets of social values, rules, and systems of etiquette: to positively manage the still powerful propensities of our legacy brain that shapes much of how we think and act.

What distinguishes Transitionalism from traditional doctrine and practices is its future oriented perspective, which recognizes that the future will be fundamentally different than the past. More importantly, the practice of self-actualization is not simply a means of individual and communal self-discipline. It is also laying the foundation when the maturity of human beings and technology allows us to alter the brain itself so that over time we can depreciate its negative influences, while accentuating the positive. Given that many of our behavioral tendencies are context dependent, in that a trait can be positive in one context and negative in another, makes it all too clear such a goal is fraught with difficult questions and there being potential for great harm if not pursued with sufficient caution. But just because something is hard does not mean it is not worth pursuing. Indeed, such a goal might well be viewed as necessary when we consider how much power current and future technologies gives to individuals who know how to use it whether it be for good or ill. Indeed, it will be the positive outcome of such a challenge that will mark our progression to the next stage of evolution as we transition from animal to being more human.