Personal growth and the rise to the top…


Life is for living – for drinking deep from the well of experience. That is why many of us believe that wild places are so special; they take us out of our narrow protected bubble and open up something deeper, more eternal.

A fulfilled life is a difficult thing to measure. Very soon we start to use nebulous words like ‘well being’, ‘happiness’ and ‘satisfaction’.

We may also have to acknowledge that life is a process – a journey. Some would call this journey a process of ‘maturity’, others would say ‘enlightenment’, others still would call it ‘personal growth’. All these ideas contain the idea that life, in all its joy and difficulties, should embrace transformation; movement from one state of being to another. Standing still is unlikely to be healthy and ultimately it will likely prove impossible.

For a while, many of us (particularly men) come to believe that a fulfilled life is one characterised by success. And because we are competitive creatures there has to be some means of measuring this success so we are always heading for the next achievement, the next conquest, the next acquisition.

I was reminded of this again today listening to a radio discussion about psychopathy with Jon Ronson, author of this book

The word ‘psychopath’ is one of the most overused and emotive terms employed by the media in relation to mental illness, but Ronson’s book goes far beyond the stereotype. He qualified to use the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, and became, by his own admission, something of an obsessive Psychopath spotter.

Whatever you believe about the usefulness of labels like this, the fascination with the sort of people who can commit such acts of appalling cruelty apparently guilt free is almost universal. All the more sobering then is the statistic that roughly 1% of people can be regarded as psychopathic.

Rather than getting stuck with all the high profile serial killers and despots, Ronson’s interest takes us more towards the very place of madness at the heart of our society. At the same time as vilifying psychopaths as not-human ‘others’, he argues that there is something psychopathic about our society, and that many parts of our society actually reward psychopathic tendencies.

Consider this – one of the two ‘factors’ in Hare’s checklist

Factor 1: Personality “Aggressive narcissism”

It is easy to see how an individual with these kind of characteristics could succeed in much of society. It is impossible not to start thinking of people we know, bosses we have had.

I went to hear psychologist Oliver James speak at Greenbelt Festival last year (you can download the talk here.) One of the things I remembered him saying was that in all his dealings with the rich and powerful, including several Prime Ministers, he had yet to meet many who he would regard as psychologically healthy.

However, Ronson goes further than this and suggests that the very institutions of our society can become psychopathic. Banks that loan what they know can never be repaid, therefore condemning people to financial indebtedness for the rest of their lives. Health systems that thrive on the sickness of the population. The creation of all sorts of addictions to gadgets and shiny product in order to ensure profit.

It is almost as if the process of becoming – whether we understand this as a spiritual, psychological or simply biological development – has been replaced by a process of conquest, where success at almost any cost is the only thing that matters.

But success is fickle. The journey to the top is often followed by the journey back down again.

Back to this maturity/enlightenment/personal growth thing. Most of us come to a point when we realise that success is rarely a route to any kind of lasting happiness (even if this is a legitimate aim for any of us.) A life that cuts us off from the social animal that we humans are and replaces this with narrow acquisition is a kind of madness – all the more so for the fact that it is a collective madness.

So for those of us who are climbing to the top, may we succeed. May our enterprises go from strength to strength. But may we also remember that success without ethical responsibility and without the mess of all that humanity may indeed still be success, but it may also be the cause of our own destruction – both individually and collectively.

8 thoughts on “Personal growth and the rise to the top…

  1. Chris,
    Your social/economic words hit a chord in me. There IS something structurally wrong with our economic system and our unspoken social rewards system. This is something that wiser people have said for years I know, but I happen to think it is now becoming pertinent.

    I.E. I believe that there are actions in progress as we speak, that may result in a conclusion to the madness. Most will not have heard of this, or when they do will dismiss it as something too big to grasp. It is big, it comes at an axial moment in an awfully long financial history:

    On Nov 23rd last year a lawsuit was filed in New York against, amongst others, the Federal Reserve, the U.N., the World Economic Forum. The face value of the bonds concerned (the claim is that they were stolen) was ~$135 billion, the market value is >$1 trillion. The case is real, I have a pdf copy of the deposition.

    You won’t have heard of it because the general media is part of the structure that is threatened by the court case.

    I believe this may be the start of the end of the tyranny.


  2. On the Up?
    You must be joking. You helped me understand that my task is not graspable by anyone – I must do it alone. The church is not for-me; it got its fingers burnt last time it got involved (Galileo). Only one of those that I know locally (priest) has a feeling that somewhere where I seek there must be an answer waiting to be found, but I’m not convinced he understands the significance. So I don’t get the encouragement. So I do it alone and find no-one who can even appreciate the significance of it for mankind and why I do it. I hate it.

    I think big! The numbers are enormous and if you can believe the plaintif they represent only the tip of the iceberg. To my mind a lot of big things seem to be happening at the same time. In the worldwide ‘Occupy’ movement there seems to be the dawning of a realisation that there is a structural problem in our economic system. With the court case there seems to be a powerful organisation taking a peaceful route to eliminating it. In my work and the failure of the Large Haydron Collider (the news of a ‘possible glimpse’ is NOT SUCCESS) there could be the genesis of a new era of scientific humility.

    At the moment the Scientific Delusion proudly presents an arrogant belief in magic! (I shan’t exand, it would take too long). The alternative is a humble acceptance that ‘dice’ (as Einstein said) cannot replace G-d. This humble acceptance will filter through the scientific establishment, through politics, to the general culture.

    On many fronts I think we see big changes on the verge of happening. Unfortunately it just doesn’t do anything for my life in the now. I have to do it alone. I have to marvel at the fantastic opportunities that await mankind in the poverty of social isolation. I hate it.


  3. Hi Chris,

    Things have moved on. Over the past few weeks I have been struggling to find a way in logic, to advance my proposition, but this has so far been to no useful end. This morning I was coming back from somewhere in the car and had a thought. My proposition can be tested with a fairly low-cost physics experiment.

    My proposition is based on someone else’s theory; he’s a professor of physics so it isn’t just any old theory, it already has much scientific evidence to back it up, but it does need a ‘clincher’ to place it centre-stage of the physics community. So first we need to get this baseline experiment done. Then, my low-cost physics experiment can be performed, the outcome of which would be a “yes” the universe does in fact come from a source which is hierarchically superior, or “No” – we are all on our own or it remains unproven.

    The thing is that I know that if G-d is there then this is the way He would do it, so I’m totally convinced that the experiment is a sufficient one to prove His existence. I realise thought, that others, yourself included, would have no real idea why I thought that, so it’s hard to convince you that it’s the right test to do.

    I have few friends, few people get as motivated as I do about it, none can understand why the test is THE defining test of mankind’s history and why I have so much confidence in it and what the benefits might be. All I can do is try to convince you that this is the field formula that Einstein was looking for and we’ve now found it. All I can say is that the benefits for mankind are immeasurable in terms of the transformation that such a scientific revelation would have. Gone would be the intellectual arrogance of the “We can work it all out” approach of scientists, to be replaced with Einstein’s “How did He do it” approach, one of humility, respect and gratitude. This would filter down through universities, governments and to the general culture.

    Selfless gratitude would become the prevailing culture.

    G-d bless

      • Then be hopeful not for me, but that I’m right. Then, one day, mankind will enter a new era.


        Alternatively don’t be hopeful of anything at all, just be-with-me on my lonesome journey of obligation and make it not quite so lonesome (it’s very lonely being lonely!).


  4. Hi Chris,
    Today there was a wikipedia campaign against a US law proposing that without legal recourse the US authorities should be able to shut down web sites which it sees as (can’t think of the right word) unfavourable. This law would give to a few people, immense powers over the worldwide freedom of information we enjoy at the moment.

    This law comes closely following a law which gives the US authorities the right to use the US army to legally detain and to KILL any US citizen who they believe to be acting against the US (again without legal recourse).

    And this law follows a massive increase in the US spending on a refurbishment and expansion of their FEMA camps. These camps are there to be used by the army to imprison very large numbers (1,000s or millions) of individuals.

    There is something big going on which the general population isn’t aware of. The US is preparing for a war, but this time against itself, and I think against the force of justice and righteousness.

    You can check the validity of my claims through the internet in all of the above three points, at the moment. Whether you will be able to check them in a few months time is another question.

    G-d bless

  5. Pingback: Jon Ronson on being crazy… « this fragile tent

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