The Standard

The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people's ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.

Or put it this way. If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something-some Real Morality--for them to be true about.

If the Rule of Decent Behaviour meant simply 'whatever each nation happens to approve,' there would be no sense in saying that any one nation had ever been more correct in its approval than any other; no sense in saying that the world could ever grow morally better or morally worse.

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity


Outcomes by themselves don't really have an unambiguously positive or negative effect on your happiness. Yes, there are some outcomes—you get a terminal disease, or your child dies—that are pretty extreme, but let's leave those out. But if you think about it, the breakup that you had with your childhood girlfriend, or you broke an arm and were in a hospital bed for two months, when they occurred, you might have felt, “Oh my goodness, this is the end of the world! I'm never going to recover from it.” But it turns out we're very good at recovering from those, and not just that, but those very events that we thought were really extremely negative were in fact pivotal in making us grow and learn.

Raj Raghunathan quoted in the Atlantic

The self-renewing man

The self-renewing man is versatile and adaptive. He is not trapped in techniques, procedures, or routines of the moment. He is not the victim of fixed habits and attitudes. He is not imprisoned by extreme specialization.  

For the self-renewing man, the development of his own potentialities and the process of self-discovery never end. It is a sad but unarguable fact that most human beings go through life only partially aware of the full range of their abilities.. By middle-age, most of use are accomplished fugitives from ourselves..How long is it since you have failed at anything? If it is long, you are in poor shape. If you are sufficiently adventurous, sufficiently willing to try new things, you will stumble fairly often.  

John Gardner,  Saturday Review XLVI (January 5, 1963)

Self-Renewal and Friendship

The self-renewing man has mutually fruitful relations with other human beings. They are capable of accepting love and capable of giving it – both more difficult achievements than is commonly thought. And what has that to do with self-renewal? The man or woman who is incapable of accepting love or of giving it is imprisoned, cut off from a great part of the world of experience. Love and friendship dissolve the rigidities of the isolated self, force new perspectives, alter judgments, and keep in working order the emotional substratum on which all profound comprehensive of human affairs must rest.

John Gardner

Self-Renewal and Motivation

The self-renewing man is highly motivated and respects the sources of his own energy and motivation. He has the priceless quality of enthusiasm. He knows how important it is to believe in what he is doing.

He knows how important it is to pursue the things about which he has a deep conviction. Enthusiasm for the task to be accomplished lifts him out of the ruts of habit and customary procedure. Drive and conviction give him the courage to risk failure. (One of the reasons mature persons stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.) And not only does he respond to challenge, but he also sees the challenge where others fail to see it..

John Gardner

Renewal happens

Renewal comes neither by taking a rest nor changing the scenery, nor by adding something new to our lives, but by ending whatever is, and then entering a temporary state of chaos when everything is up for grabs and anything is possible. Then we can come out of what is really a death-and-rebirth process with a new identity, a new sense of purpose, and a new store of life energy.

William Bridges, The Way of Transition

The one-sided Cycle

The ancient wisdom from Ecclesiastes that tells us that there is a time for living and dying. East and West have traditionally taken opposite positions in relation to this cycle. Eastern religions have traditionally embraced the letting-go that characterizes the ending aspect of the cycle. Western thought, on the other hand, has tried to get the most out of the other aspect of the cycle—the identifications, the embodiments, the actualizations that are associated with the transition phase of beginning again in a new cycle. This approach makes an ending into a breakdown and even a failure. To be fair, the East has its own one-sidedness too. It identifies with letting go and ending, and all the things that are produced by beginnings are dismissed as illusion. The letting go is no longer a dynamic process but a state of detachment.

William Bridges, The Way of Transition

Mummies in the Audience

“Keep on growing,” the commencement speakers say. “Don’t go to seed. Let this be a beginning, not an ending.” It is a good theme. Yet a high proportion of the young people who hear the speeches pay no heed, and by the time they are middle-aged they are absolutely mummified. Even some of the people who make the speeches are mummified. Why?

The thing that is really blocking self-development – the individual’s own intricately designed, self-constructed prison, or to put it another way, the individual’s incapacity for self-renewal.

John Gardner, Self-Renewal