We were just talking about what an initiative on “well-being” might look like for our organisation and were at a bit of a loss to describe what its focus should be or how it would be represented so that it could be meaningful.
We had Aisling Costello on the call, someone who we have been lucky enough to have working with us since earlier this year and who has just taken on a more formalised role in research. With a background in psychology well-being is an area she knows something about and she shared some readings with us, a part of which I was particularly struck by and wanted to share with others. Thank you Aisling!
The particularly striking part of her readings is from a digest of the “Tanner Lectures on Human Values” specifically called “Flourish: Positive Psychology and Positive Interventions” as delivered by Dr. Martin Seligman at the University of Michigan on October 7th 2010 . Dr Seligman explores “positive Psychology” and “positive interventions programs” and towards the end of his lecture he quotes from Nietzsche saying:
“In Zarathustra, Nietzsche argued that human development has three stages. The first stage he called the camel. Human history for the most part has been in this stage. The camel just sits there and moans. The second stage Nietzsche called the lion, or sometimes the rebel. What the lion does is say “No!” – no to poverty, no to racism, no to disease. This is basically what our politics from 1776 has been, a politics of saying “No” to the disabling conditions of life. I think you have to be blinded by ideology not to see that this politics has been working and that there has been real human progress. There are more good things in the world now than there were two hundred years ago. There is not only more wealth, but also less racism, less pollution, more human rights, fewer battlefield deaths, more democracy, and on and on.
“But the lion is not Nietzsche’s final stage. Nietzsche wondered, what if the lion worked, and we actually were successful in saying “No” to the disabling conditions of life? This leads to the third stage of human existence, which Nietzsche called the child reborn. In this stage, we can ask, “What can every human-being affirm? What does every parent want for every child?” This is exactly what we have talked about today.”
“We can all say “Yes” to more positive emotion in life. We can all say “Yes” to more engagement with the people we love, in our work, in our leisure. We can all say “Yes” to better relationships with people. We can all say “Yes” to more meaning in life. We can all say “Yes” to more positive accomplishment. We can all say “Yes” to human flourishing.” (p. 242)
This certainly sets a high benchmark for our own well-being program, or should that be “child reborn program”, where we make space for each other to volunteer what would help elicit more “Yeses”.
Perhaps this time of Covid has provided some of us with the opportunity to dream about how things might be better not only in our organisations, but in our world when we come out of this period of hardship and loss that has particularly afflicted the most poor and disadvantaged in our societies. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) warned on 20th May in a news report from New York: “Global human development – which can be measured as a combination of the world’s education, health and living standards – could decline this year for the first time since the concept was introduced in 1990.” Ten years ago Dr. Seligman contended that: “the wealthy nations of the world stand at a very special moment in history – a Florentine moment – in which we can, with great effect, decide what our wealth is for” (p. 232). Perhaps this is even more the case today, than it was then and we will yet have our Covid moment when we make long term well-being decisions that more overtly support those with the most needs both in our own societies, and those in developing nations beyond our borders reflecting the spirit of what every parent wants for every child.
1 Seligman, M. (2010). Flourish: Positive psychology and positive interventions. The Tanner lectures on human values, 31, 1-56