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What, or When, is Enough?

Dave Ewoldt, June 2005

   Growth and development. Today, most people tend to regard these terms as being synonomous. However, this tends to cause much grief, on both personal and social levels.

   Personal growth, as addressed by much therapy and most of the self-help movement, tends to take a problem-focused stance, and is mainly about working with yourself. However, in an interconnected world, this actually turns out to be one of the problems. By turning inward, away from the world, we loose sight of the fact that we evolved to play a supportive role in the web of life, and that we are perfectly suited for doing so, pretty much just as we are.

   When we can't live up to a romantic, New Age fantasy of a more actualized and ever-expanding self, we tend to see this situation as a problem. We fear that our ordinary self is not good enough; we have to fix it, or improve it, before we can do or create what we truly want. We think we have to become something else, or meet someone else's expectations, before we can become effective, or even good enough.

   There's an aspect of personal development that is about coming into our true selves and not about focusing on past problems, that doesn't entail endless growth, where we admit that enough is enough. Some researchers point out that the word grow is more appropriate to children, and concentrating on constant personal growth is an idealization that sets us up to fail.

   The idea of endless growth puts us in a constant state of failure because we can never reach the end state. We constantly compare ourself to some idealized state on a growth scale of different colors, or numbered levels, or higher energy chokras. We forget or ignore that the only thing that grows without restraint are cancer cells, which grow until the host dies.

   If we don't grow, if we don't continuously consume more, we think of ourselves as failures. If the economy doesn't continue to grow on some type of unrealistic exponential scale in an inherently non-linear world, we think there's something wrong, that our economic system is a failure requiring artificial manipulation by the Federal Reserve.

   And so, this is the pattern economic and social development follows. Growth "management" in the current political climate does not set an upper limit to growth. We grow until everything is consumed. We now try to rationalize it by calling it smart growth, without realizing that smart growth gets us to the same place as dumb growth, we just get there a bit slower and via first class. We've even started to use the term sustainable growth. However, this is an oxymoron, and thus, the manner in which we currently approach growth management is doomed to ultimate failure. Sustainable development, though, is a distinct possibility in the personal, social, and economic realms.

   We often hear from the advocates of growth in the urban development and business sectors that growth is not only good--it's actually necessary for prosperity. Questioning this primary assumption is not allowed. Alternatives to growth are not permitted to be planned for, and even exploring the possibility there might be a need for an alternative to growth is simply banned from the debate; we're told that it's off the table.

   The problem with this 'growth is positive' mindset is that the true costs of growth are simply not calculated in current growth management plans. Growth proponents ignore the studies showing that increasing the tax base actually increases the net tax burden to communities. Farmland and open spaces require $.53 in public services for every tax dollar they contribute, while developed urban land requires $1.14 in public services for every tax dollar generated.

   There is a basic law in evolutionary biology that species expand to fill an ecological niche. Growth based development is a forced and unnatural expansion of a niche, and causes the population to expand to fill it. As long as we keep building, more people will keep coming. If the niche doesn't exist or isn't created, people won't expand to fill it. Studies show that, historically, increases in material production and agricultural output drive population growth, not the other way around. If we plan for growth, that's exactly what we'll get.

   We can, however, create avenues for people to find meaning and purpose in life, instead of supporting the myth that constant growth and accumulation is our ultimate goal. We can do this by helping people develop their senses of community and place. As people begin to understand that materialism isn't the road to happiness, we can begin to create living wage jobs that require fewer hours, which would allow people the time to enjoy what really matters. This would also help decrease rates of unemployment, which is actually more important from an economic perspective than simply creating more jobs.

   There are many ways we can develop as individuals and as a community, such as developing our creativity, compassion, our respect for diversity, and learning how to fully appreciate and enjoy ourselves, each other, and the natural world. Because human desire is truly infinite, as well as our capacity for love, it's physically impossible for a finite universe to provide fulfillment through material means alone. Sustainable development must come from directions that don't decrease dwindling natural resources, or consume them at rates greater than they can be naturally renewed.

   I'll close with some questions to ask yourselves. Can humans become the first species to use their vaunted intelligence to reverse when they discover they have taken the wrong fork in the road? Or will we continue to fit the definition of fanaticism, which is to double your speed when you discover you're going the wrong way?

   Can we learn to accept that we do not have to be anyone other than who we are to create what we want to create? Because, our ordinary selves, and what is naturally available, are quite good enough.

   If you would like to schedule an introductory consultation session or arrange a presentation or workshop for your group, please contact or give Dave or Allison, co-founders of Attraction Retreat, a call at (360) 756-7998.


"You didn't come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here."
Alan Watts


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