It’s always fun to take a short journey through the ancient Greek philosophers. They were a prolific lot, and provided the foundation for a lot of where we find ourselves today. For the past couple of days, we delved into how the ancient Greeks – Plato in particular – looked at the subject of “happiness.” These four levels run the gamut from self-centered to other-centered, to the search for the ultimate. Today we are going to look at what it means when we choose these levels to live in – and only those levels.
As we mentioned before, we live our days as a combination of the four levels – Instant Gratification, Competition, Contribution and Ultimate Perfection – every day. Each has its place, depending upon the situation at hand. The challenge comes when “only” enters the picture:
• Instant Gratification is important, say, when we are hungry. The hunger is intense and so is the resolution to that hunger when we get something to eat. However, when instant gratification is the only thing that makes us happy, we are severely limited. Instant happiness lasts just about that long – an instant. Then we are off to find something else to make us happy. It is a very short attention span.
• Competition is vital when it harnesses energy and creativity to expand ourselves. However, when that energy is spent finding others we can feel “better than,” we don’t get anything else done. If our happiness is only based on competition against others, it’s an unfulfilling place to live. We are slaves to our own ego in order to cover up our poor sense of self-worth and we lose connection with those around us.
• Living at the level of Contribution would seem to be the best place to be, because it encourages us to reach more of our potential. We utilize our skills and abilities, our talents, in the service of an idea, a project, a need beyond ourselves. However, if we only live at this level, we run the risk of not taking care of our basic needs. We let others take advantage of us, and we may miss opportunities to challenge ourselves to grow.
• The seeking of Ultimate Perfection is the most difficult level to reach, and if we only search for it among our relationships with other human beings, we will be disappointed. Human beings, as flawed and wonderful as we are, simply are not capable of continuous perfection. Yes, we want to reach for those moments when we can glimpse perfection, but if that is all we do, we miss out on really living our lives.
It is in the striving for an effective balance of these four levels where we truly come into our own as human beings, and where our organizations go after excellence, to truly fulfill their vision and values.